Our Bob Hoskins tribute continues with the only film that earned him an Academy Award nomination. Directed by Neil Jordan and released in 1986, “Mona Lisa” tells the story of George (Hoskins), a small time hood who has just been released from prison. As a reward for keeping his mouth shut about his boss Denny (Michael Caine), George is given the job of being the chauffeur for high-class prostitute Simone (Cathy Tyson). Throughout the course of the movie, George becomes memorized by Simone and attempts to help find a girl that Simone used to look after. As George is pulled more into Simone’s world, the lines between perception and reality become blurred, and the truth is nothing what George thinks it is.
The title of the film “Mona Lisa” makes completely perfect sense due to the audience’s perception. Like George, the audience does not know whether or not Simone is working with George because she loves him, or using him to satisfy her own ends. While the truth of Simone’s intentions becomes known in the climax, the fact that George (and by extension the audience) are putting their own interpretations on what Simone’s personality should be is an excellent choice of screenwriting by Neil Jordan. The song “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole also reinforces this idea with the lines “Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa? Or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?”: Is Simone this real person who George thinks she is? Or is she a distant person who is using George to her own ends?
Of course, this theme of the film would be remiss without mentioning the incredible performances of all the leads. Michael Caine is great as the villainous Denny, and Cathy Tyson is incredible as Simone, but the person who stands out is Hoskins as George. Hoskins infuses George with the right level of pathos and grit. You can see in Hoskins’ performance that he is a good man trying to find his place in the world, but is constantly used and abused by the person he lives and trusts. In the hands of a lesser actor, the role could easily have been one-note, but Hoskins takes this role and makes it a tour-de-force performance. It is not a surprise that Hoskins was nominated for Best Actor for this role, but it is a surprise that he did not win (losing to Paul Newman and his sympathy Oscar for “The Color of Money”). But just ignore that fact and look at the Hoskins’ performance for what it is: About a man who is trying to get back on the straight and narrow, but is constantly betrayed by the person he loves.
Featuring an interesting theme, great performances, and incredible directing, “Mona Lisa” is a great film to not only view great acting, but also what a great film should be. Be prepared to listen to the Nat King Cole song “Mona Lisa” and look at the painting by Da Vinci to further appreciate the film.
Fun Fact: This movie has Robbie Coltrane as George’s friend who loves mystery novels and plastic spaghetti. In this reviewer’s opinion, any Robbie Coltrane is always a good thing in any movie.