Saturday, February 23, 2013

Blind Spot 2013: Mona Lisa

Directed by Neil Jordan and written by Jordan and David Leland, Mona Lisa is the story of a small-time criminal who becomes a driver for a high-class prostitute only to be entangled into a dark underworld involving the sex trade. The film is an exploration into a man trying to do the right thing when he realizes he is a new world as he tries to help a prostitute find someone. Starring Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Robbie Coltrane, and Michael Caine. Mona Lisa is a gripping yet evocative film from Neil Jordan.

What happens to a former criminal who takes a job as a driver for a high-class prostitute for his boss only to enter this dark underworld involving the sex trade? That is the premise of the film as it revolves around this man named George (Bob Hoskins) who returns from a seven-year prison stay seeking redemption as well as compensation for doing his time for his former mob boss Denny Mortwell (Michael Caine). Mortwell gives him this job as a driver for a hooker named Simone (Cathy Tyson) where the two become friends as she asks George to help find a friend of hers whom she believes has gotten herself into serious trouble. George does what Simone asks only to go very deep into this dark underworld where it involves Mortwell trying to legitimize himself through the sex trade that also involves drugs forcing George to do what he feels is right.

The screenplay by Neil Jordan and David Leland is quite complex in not just the exploration of prostitution and this underworld that includes that along with other aspects of the sex trade. It goes very deep into that world where it is controlled by this mob boss who is seeking legitimacy by using prostitutes to service men who have power. Men like politicians or movers-and-shakers that Mortwell wants to take part in so he can have money, power, and respectability so he wouldn’t be in trouble with the police. For a man like George, it’s a world he doesn’t know very much about as he is more interested in making a living and not get in trouble while trying to re-establish a relationship with his daughter Jeannie (Zoe Nathenson) whom he hadn’t seen since going to prison. Upon working for Simone, George learns what he has to do as a chauffer as well as dressing like one where he learns about what kind of work Simone does.

Simone is an interesting individual who is a prostitute that is willing to service men of power for lots of money but there are things that she does that do become questionable as Mortwell asks George to find out the things she’s doing. Yet, she knows about the sex underworld that is prevalent in London as they always drive through the bridge above King’s Cross that is filled with young hookers and all sorts of seedy people. By asking George to find one of her friends whom she believes is dealing with the worst sort of people, George goes inside as he makes some unsettling discoveries. Yet, he finds himself drawn to Simone as he tries to ensure her a world of hope but things eventually become more complicated as Mortwell gets involved.

Neil Jordan’s direction is very engaging for the way he explores the world of London’s sex shops and its connection to the world of the rich-and-powerful. Notably as he shoots it on location in London where it is a world that is unique but also very seedy in some of the areas like the King’s Cross bridge or some of the streets in London. The direction is also filled with these array of mesmerizing images of the way some of the hotels that George and Simone frequent to or other locations such as Brighton late in the film. The camera is often moving in several scenes such as a montage of George walking through the sex shops, peep shows, and other places in London trying to find this mysterious young woman.

The direction also has a moment of intimacy in some of the scenes between George and Simone where Jordan uses some close-ups and medium shots to express their growing friendship that also has a hint of romance. Jordan infuses a lot of genres into this story though it’s mainly a suspense-drama with bits of humor and adventure. Yet, he also tries to create something that is unsettling where George and Simone are aware they’re in trouble as it does involve some chilling moments of violence. Even as it features this climax involving Mortwell where a lot of revelations occur but also some moments that would prove to disheartening for George. Overall, Jordan crafts a very powerful yet fascinating film about a man’s willingness to do the right thing and find redemption.

Cinematographer Roger Pratt does brilliant work with the film‘s photography from the look of many of the film‘s daytime exteriors and interiors in London to some of the stylish lighting schemes for scenes at night or at the garage owned by George‘s friend Thomas. Editor Lesley Walker does excellent work with the editing by creating a wonderful montage of George trekking through the sex underworld as well some stylish cuts in some of the film‘s suspenseful moments. Production designer Jamie Leonard and art director Gemma Jackson do terrific work with the look of some of the peep shows and sex shops that George treks through as well as the garage that Thomas lives in.

Costume designer Louise Frogley does wonderful work with the costumes from the classy dresses and lingerie that Simone wears to the suits that George wears that allows him to fit in with the world of the rich. Sound editor Jonathan Bates does nice work with the sound from the way some of the sex shops sound like to the more intimate yet layered work in the posh hotels as well as the crazier moments in the London streets.

The film’s music by Michael Kamen is superb as it is a mixture of serene orchestration along with some suspense in the strings as well as some eerie electronic cuts to play out some of the dark elements of the film. The rest of the music is largely based on the works of two artists in Nat “King” Cole and Genesis. The former has two songs that play to George’s yearning for the old ways as well as his attraction towards Simone in When I Fall in Love and the title track. In the latter, the Genesis ballad In Too Deep is featured in a montage of George trekking into the sex underworld as it plays to his own emotions and loneliness as the music is a major highlight of the film.

The casting by Susie Figgis is amazing as it features a brilliant ensemble cast that includes some notable small roles from Joe Brown as an associate of Mortwell in Dudley, Sammi Davis as a young hooker named May, Katie Hardie as the woman George is trying to find for Simone, Clarke Peters as a brutish pimp named Anderson, and Zoe Nathenson as George’s daughter Jeannie whom George is trying to reconnect with. Robbie Coltrane is great as George’s friend Thomas who tries to piece out all of the things George is going through while helping him out a bit. Michael Caine is brilliant as the devious Denny Mortwell as a man who wants to ensure that George is doing well though the things he does are very seedy as it is one of Caine’s finest performances.

Cathy Tyson is excellent as Simone as she displays an air of class to her role as well as a grittiness that is just captivating to watch as a woman who knows how to navigate to the scenes while being very troubled by some of the circumstances that occur. Finally, there’s Bob Hoskins in a magnificent performance as George. Hoskins display that sense of working class ethics and naivete while becoming more refined in his choice of clothes while showing a sensitivity to his role as a man who is really determined to find Simone’s friend while being a friend to Simone as it’s one of Hoskin’s greatest performances.

Mona Lisa is an outstanding film from Neil Jordan that features a riveting performance from Bob Hoskins. Along with brilliant supporting work from Cathy Tyson, Robbie Coltrane, and Michael Caine. The film is definitely one of the great films of British cinema as well as one of Neil Jordan’s finest works. It’s also an intriguing study of a man trying to help someone and seek redemption for some of his past actions. In the end, Mona Lisa is a tremendous film from Neil Jordan.

Neil Jordan Films: (Angel (1982 film)) - (The Company of Wolves) - (High Spirits) - (We’re No Angels) - (The Miracle (1991 film)) - (The Crying Game) - (Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles) - (Michael Collins) - (The Butcher Boy) - (In Dreams) - (The End of the Affair) - (The Good Thief) - (Breakfast on Pluto) - (The Brave One) - (Ondine) - (Byzantium)

© thevoid99 2013

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