“Neil’s image of London… was London seen through the eyes of an Irish poet.” ^ -Bob Hoskins from the commentary track of “Mona Lisa”.
Neil Jordan’s 1985 film “Mona Lisa” is nothing short of a masterwork. Often overlooked in shadow of Jordan’s “The Crying Game” and his subsequent success with films such as “Interview with the Vampire” and “The End of the Affair”, “Mona Lisa” stands as an early gem from one of the cinema’s true artists.
When small-time hood George (Bob Hoskins) is released from prison he reluctantly takes on the gig of chauffeur to a high class prostitute (Cathy Tyson). George is eventually compelled to help her to find her friend who had mysteriously disappeared, delving him deep into London’s seedy underbelly is search of both the girl and in turn himself.
Jordan turns the conventions of the typical crime drama on end and shifts the focus to the dynamics of the relationship between these two characters whose respective worlds are completely at odds with their own. As a filmmaker, Jordan’s attention to the details and complexities of the human condition is unparalleled. “Mona Lisa” contains brilliant performances throughout (Hoskins garnered an Oscar nomination for his performance) and the look of the film is a delicate balance of sleaze and beauty. The cinematography by Roger Pratt is nothing short of breathtaking as the nocturnal underbelly of London is shown in all its harsh splendor.
As with the best of Jordan’s work, the viewer is never let off easy. Just when you think you have it figured out the narrative takes you in whole new directions that you never quite anticipated. The result is a film that utilizes and manipulates the conventions of its genre to create something wholly new and original. “Mona Lisa” is equal parts character study, crime drama and love story.
The DVD is presented in its original widescreen ratio of 1.77:1 with a beautiful new digital transfer. The commentary track features director Neil Jordan and actor Bob Hoskins. As is usual with Jordan, the commentary is excellent. Both he and Hoskins provide great insight into the film and the process by which the project evolved.
“Mona Lisa” is the film that established Jordan early on as one of the top art house filmmakers of his time. It beautifully bridges his earlier works (“The Company of Wolves”, “Angel”) and his unlikely breakthrough with “The Crying Game” and beyond. Criterion has done their usual excellent job unearthing an important contemporary film that will one day be looked back upon as a classic. I only hope that Criterion decides to do the same with some of Jordan’s other films such as “The Butcher Boy” and “The Miracle”.