Out of the Past: ‘Mona Lisa’ (1986)

George is the person that tries to make the right decisions, but always make the wrong ones. George has just been released from prison and is looking for a job and trying to reconnect with his daughter.  He gets a job as a chauffeur to Simone, a high price call girl. They are both broken inside, but in their professions, they can’t let that be seen. The two pieces of a puzzle find each other, but how do they fit? At first they don’t. They look at the other with detestation. However, eventually, they pity one another.

Mona Lisa is about happiness, or, at least, the search for a “mystic smile.” The film themes can be found in the Nat King Cole song that features so predominantly throughout the movie. As the ice begins to thaw between the call girl and her driver, Simone asks George if he could track down an old acquaintance of hers that she fears is in the clutches of the sex trade in Soho, London. Silly old George agrees and plunges into a misbegotten world of sex, drugs, and booze. Director Neil Jordan allows for the right amount of realism as George enters numerous strip joints and brothels. You can feel sticky suction on George’s shoes as he walks on floors covered in alcohol, sweat, and other bodily fluids. Jordan also refers to the voyeurism of Taxi Driver as George drives through the foggy streets of London lined with pimps and hookers.

Cathy Tyson and the late Bob Hoskins give two indelible performances as Simone and George. Tyson gives Simone her cool exterior but exerts the passion within her soul. Hoskins tiptoes on a tightrope as the meat-headed but tender George. Hoskins gives the film both the emotional center and the comic relief of the film: a hard balancing act that is pulled off by one of Britain’s most talented actors.  A third memorable performance is given by Michael Caine as the Mob boss who deals in woman and drugs. Caine is at his most villainous while still being Michael Caine.

Mona Lisa is nothing if not a work of art.


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