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Neil Jordan
Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Michael Caine
Neil Jordan, David Leland
A man recently released from prison manages to get a job driving a call girl from customer to customer.
Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English PCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 9/14/2021

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Neil Jordan and Actor Bob Hoskins
• Conversation with Writer/Director Neil Jordan and Actor Cathy Tyson
• Interview With Writer David Leland
• Interview with Producer Stephen Woolley
• Cannes 1986 Featurette
• Booklet


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Mona Lisa: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1986)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 28, 2021)

When I visited England in December 1999, I cut across an area of London on my way to Piccadilly Circus. Unwittingly - really! - I stumbled upon a district near that tourist trap in which most of the stores favored pornographic material.

It was here that for the first and only times in my life prostitutes approached me. One seemed stoned and out of it, but the other was quite chipper. She appeared polite and wished me a good day when I declined her invitation.

Despite the pleasant demeanor of this pro, the experience left a bad taste in my mouth, mainly due to that less-genial compatriot of hers. However, based on a viewing of 1986’s Mona Lisa, I may have gotten off easy. Although the situation seemed seedy and depressing, it was nothing compared to the sad lifestyles depicted in this film.

Mona Lisa focuses on the story of George (Bob Hoskins), a recently-released ex-con. George apparently went to jail due to general hood-related activities, and he seems eager to pick up where he left off in earlier years.

As the movie starts, George tries to regain employment with his old boss Mortwell (Michael Caine). Unfortunately, he can’t meet up with the big man; instead, he’s given a task to be the driver for a prostitute named Simone (Cathy Tyson).

Initially, crass George and more sophisticated Simone - who he describes as a “tall black tart” - get along poorly, but they gradually develop stronger feelings for each other. Actually, George seems to fall for Simone, and he becomes ensnared in a variety of nasty situations out of his affection for her. Inevitably, he sets himself up for a fall, and the film explores the nature of his emotions.

Mona Lisa doesn’t operate from much of a plot base, but it does very well for itself nonetheless. It functions largely as a character drama, and the focus stays strongly on George.

As such, it helps that Hoskins offers a thoroughly terrific performance as our protagonist. He makes George seem appropriately rough and thick, but he also imbues the role with sublime humanity and realism. George could have been little more than a dim-witted hood, but Hoskins creates a full-blooded and involving character.

The remainder of the cast also seems solid. Tyson feels quite believable as Simone, as she offers just enough charm and vivacity to make her endearing to George - and us - but she keeps away from the usual “hooker with the heart of gold” stereotypes.

Mona Lisa isn’t the kind of film that presents pat, easily-categorized characters, and the depth Tyson and the others bring to the roles made the film engaging.

Really, this kind of movie lives or dies based on the performances, so there may have been little that director Neil Jordan could have done to damage the film in that regard. The movie becomes a bit muddled at times, but as a whole it progresses at an appropriate rate, and the story feels largely coherent. It’s not a fantastically deep work, but Jordan executes the tale with skill.

It remains the fine acting of Mona Lisa that makes it a treat to watch. Bob Hoskins received the film’s only Academy Award nomination, though he eventually lost the prize to Paul Newman’s performance in The Color Of Money.

I liked Newman in that role, but he couldn’t compare to the simple yet effective work of Hoskins. As a film, Mona Lisa isn’t a classic, but the excellent performances it contains puts it on a high level.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Mona Lisa appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The transfer captured the source well.

Overall definition seemed appealing. A little softness impacted a few interiors, but the majority of the movie brought appealing accuracy and detail.

I saw no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge haloes remained absent. Grain seemed light but appropriate, and I witnessed no print flaws.

Colors went for a fairly natural vibe – well, “natural” for the artificial tones of the London clubs in which a lot of the story takes place. Though the hues didn’t leap off the screen, they seemed well-rendered and appropriate for this tale.

Blacks looked deep and dense, while shadows offered good delineation. Across the board, the image satisfied.

As for the film’s PCM monaural soundtrack, it seemed more than competent for a film of this sort. Granted, 1986 was firmly in the “Dolby Surround” era, so the presence of a single-channel mix seemed outdated even then, but given the nature of the story, it worked fine.

Dialogue felt natural and concise, without issues related to edginess or other issues. Music played a minor role but came across as reasonably full and lush.

Effects had even less to do, but they worked fine, as those elements felt accurate and concise. This was a perfectly adequate soundtrack for a 35-year-old character tale.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD from 2001? Audio felt a bit warmer, while visuals seemed better defined, cleaner and more natural. This became a fine upgrade.

The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and we find an audio commentary from director Neil Jordan and actor Bob Hoskins. Recorded for a 1996 laserdisc, both men were recorded separately and the results were edited together for this single coherent track.

This results in a solid audio commentary. Not surprisingly, Jordan dominates the track, and he provides a good wealth of information about the film’s genesis, its production, and what he wanted to do with it.

Hoskins contributes some nice reflections on his goals as an actor and his experiences during the making of the movie. It’s a compelling and informative program that added to my appreciation of the film.

From there we go to extras not found on the DVD, and we start with a 2021 Conversation with Writer/Director Neil Jordan and Actor Cathy Tyson. Accompanied by critic Ryan Gilbey, this 29-minute, 14-second chat goes into Tyson’s casting, character and performance, Jordan’s work as director and the project’s development, sets, locations and attempts at realism, and general notes about the flick.

It’s too bad the pandemic forced the participants to chat via Zoom, but it’s still fun to see Tyson and Jordan reunited. They give us a nice look back at the film.

From 2015, we get an Interview with Writer David Leland. It lasts 19 minutes, two seconds and provides Leland’s thoughts about his work on the screenplay, his collaboration with Jordan and other aspects of his experiences on the film. Leland offers some good notes, especially ways his draft differed from the final product.

Also from 2015, an Interview with Producer Stephen Wooley spans 13 minutes, 38 seconds and offers his comments about the movie’s depiction of London as well as the film’s development and story/character domains. This turns into another informative chat.

Finally, we go to Cannes 1986 for more material with Jordan and Hoskins. The reel fills 10 minutes, 48 seconds and gives their remarks about the movie’s reception and a few general notes. Nothing especially revealing emerges, but it’s good to see this reel for archival reasons.

A booklet completes the set. It features art, credits and an essay from Gilbey. It finishes the package on a nice note.

Mona Lisa offers an unspectacular tale, but some excellent performances buoy it. In particular, Bob Hoskins makes the movie work almost single-handedly. The Blu-ray brings appropriate picture and audio as well as an appealing collection of bonus materials. Mona Lisa holds up as an engaging character piece thanks to its cast.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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