Wednesday, January 27, 2010


The Film: Mona Lisa (107)
The Director: Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Butcher Boy, etc.)

What Is It?: A hellish fairy tale of a crime story centering on George (Bob Hoskins) and his quest to make something better of himself and everyone else around him.

The Expectation?: High as anything. Love myself a British crime picture. Love myself an early-era Bob Hoskins, and after glancing at the initial few minutes of the film, couldn't have been more excited.

The Experience?: My Criterion Companion snuck this one in without telling me, so I've been trying to find a moment to slip it in. Today was that moment. Rainy, dreary British crime at 11 'o' clock on a Wednesday morning.

1. White rabbits.

From the opening salvos of this brilliant bit of sordid crime-romance, you know you're not in for the regular men with guns bit of gangster film. Mr. George (Bob Hoskins) delivers a white rabbit, for reasons never known, to a seedy bar, and right then and there we, the audience, are, quite figuratively, thrown down the rabbit hole. For the next hour and half, we will experience, along with the smarter-than-he-seems Mr. George, an oft times surreal, sordid and bat-fuck crazy immersion in to the concrete world of the London sex underground. Cheshire cats will smile, Mad Hatter's will craft fake spaghetti, Red Queens will scream and punch, and the whole way through, our wide-eyed protagonist will try to keep his hat on. Take a deep breath, this is a wild ride.

2. Bob Hoskins, wow.

This is film number three in the Criterion Collection for one Bob Hoskins (the first being the also brilliant modern crime picture, The Long Good Friday (26), the second being the absolute classic Brazil (51)) and I want more. There's a nature to Bob Hoskins, a ticking time bomb that sits behind his eyes, that creates the idea that this man can and will do anything if pushed far enough. Mona Lisa (107) opens with this sawed-off number waltzing up to his daughter's door screaming, yelling, throwing trash cans and assaulting a homeless man on the street. Hoskins emotes likable schizophrenia in a way you can't learn. It's embedded in the very essence of his character and this film would be nothing without him. The slow dissolving of his criminal naivete is the heart of this film, and as he fights to create within himself a moral center (within a painfully amoral world) this schizophrenic nature is thrown to the forefront. He must love, and fight, and rage against what he sees as wrong, and no other actor could be so damn likable doing it.

3. Lets talk about those layers.

This is a film about illusion, perception, the peeling away of layers and layers to reveal the gooey core that lays beneath, well if Neil Jordan had his way, everything. Mr. George wants nothing more than to drive a car, to see his daughter, and get repaid for the seven years he spent in the pokey for crime boss Mortwell (Michael Caine). When he's thrust in to the employ of "tart" Simone (a ravishingly 80s Cathy Tyson), the slow shedding of the illusory masks of society as a whole start to fall away. Mr. George is forced to realize that what he sees on the outside is just that, the outside, and what truly matters (for good or for bad) is what lies below the surface. We see the tidy homes of prostitutes, the seedy interiors of strip clubs prior to their openings, we see thugs fall in love, we see what rich, old men truly want from their escorts and on and on and on. By the end of the film, with hearts broken, bodies riddled with bullets, and George a completely changed man, we see everyone's hands open, everyone's true intentions exposed. It's not a pretty picture, but it's an honest one, and I think that's what Jordan is trying to say. Happiness doesn't lie in ignorance, it might not lay anywhere at all, but without a true understanding of what's going on, hell, you're a sitting duck.

4. A transition in crime.

Leaving prison can't be easy. George comes out expecting to be roughing up goons like himself, but instead finds himself thrown in to the world of high-class call girls and blackmail, kinky sex and the beating of women. It's a different world for a fists-to-face thug of the 70s and it exposes so much more. Where George came from before there was an unspoken set of rules that didn't involve leather-bound prostitutes and 15-year old whores. Lord knows what it entailed, but on George's face you can read that things have changed and this film revolves around what happens when he tries to get himself back in to a game that doesn't exist anymore. It's interesting to note that though George is obviously a violent, fucked-up man, the things he sees, and we in turn see, in this film, are disgusting to him. Things have transitioned and George can't deal with it, thus he's thrust in to the role of erstwhile-savior (a theme pictorially shown numerous times through out the film - the church, Cathy's (Kate Hardie) referring to him as a "father"). A moral force in an amoral world.

Final Thoughts: Brilliant. Absolutely amazing, from frame one to the end. Has me slathering for more, more, and more.

What's Next?: The Rock (108), Michael Bay's SF based action flick starring Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage. I loved this film as a wee one, and actually have the Criterion version under my bed. Bristling with excitement.

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