Neil Jordan knows movies are a form of art. While much of his work carries a distinctive artistic style, his involving 1986 drama Mona Lisa even carries the title of the famous painting of a dark, serene, mysterious woman with a slight grin on her face -- the Mona Lisa.
Mona Lisa shares much in common with that painting. The film contains a female character who is serene, dark, and mysterious. It doesn't take a genius, however, to comprehend that the leading actress here is a lot sexier than the woman in the painting.
The film stars Bob Hoskins as George, a scruffy but sweet fellow who has just been released from prison. He reluctantly accepts the responsibility of chauffeuring an expensive prostitute (Cathy Tyson) around town. After starting out on the wrong foot, to say the least, a friendship eventually develops. George also decides to help the hooker find a friend who has mysteriously disappeared. Complications ensue.
This film contains a sharp, unexpected narrative that leads us to believe one event will happen, only to see something different occur. It's a journey of self-discovery for George and a morality play for Tyson's character.
Initially, it's difficult to decipher this movie. One needs to examine the film's complex themes and comparisons to fully understand it. Mona Lisa takes us through the sleazy world of pornography in London. But the movie isn't anything like 8MM, the 1999 film that is becoming a notorious comparison for movies that deal with the underground world of porn. That film carried the same message as Mona Lisa, but bears a much more aggressive attitude. Mona Lisa does not share that attitude. It's filled with a humble human dimension. It isn't about sex, nudity, and violence, but about the personal struggles and despicable lifestyles that pornographers inhabit.
Neil Jordan turns the conventions of a typical crime drama into a deep, passionate character study. He pays close attention to the circumstances that cause the emotional and physical struggles, as well as the emotions themselves. Hoskins, who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance, is perfect for the role. He is one of Hollywood's best actors, and we do not see him in enough movies these days.
Mona Lisa manipulates the commodities of its genre to create something fresh and unique. The film will not work all the time -- it's often tedious in its timing, and the pacing is quite slow. For patient audiences who enjoy well-crafted art house flicks, Mona Lisa will prove to be a memorable cinematic experience that crawls under your skin. For everyone else, the production might not be as entertaining, but it still displays the vast talents of Neil Jordan.