Only hearing about this film for the first time a few weeks ago, I was taken by its title. Mona Lisa. What an odd choice for the name of a “neo noir” film. But hey, it has Bob Hoskins in a starring role, and ‘ve been meaning to watch more films with him in it. My experience with him only comes from Super Mario Bros. and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, so I wanted to expand my o-Bob-eter.
Neo-noir is also a (sub?)genre of film that I’m quite fond of. Dreary detective stories, told at the backdrop of night with a jazzy soundtrack whistling in the ear. Very Blade Runner-esque, though of course that came far, far after the “noir” name stuck in film history. With many reasons to give it a watch, I figured I’d go back in time nearly forty years after four straight days of films from 2022.
“George is a small-time crook just out of prison who discovers his tough-guy image is out of date. Reduced to working as a minder/driver for high class call girl Simone, he has to agree when she asks him to find a young colleague from her King’s Cross days. That’s when George’s troubles just start.”
And now that I have more time to type out my thoughts, this post will not be embarrassingly short.
First off, a confession: I had no idea Bob Hoskins was English. Given my prior experience with him, it was easy for me to assume he was American given his performances. Here, he speaks very clearly non-American; in fact, it sounds Australian. I wondered for a moment if he was putting on a bad accent, but it’s probably similar enough to how he actually speaks. That was neat.
My bringing that up actually has a deeper insinuation. For a little while, it was a tad hard to understand what the characters were saying. Their accents are pretty thick, and my stubborn head is determined to not use subtitles if at all possible. As my brain adjusted to the screen and my mental state further immersed, the understanding became greater. Alas, the first ten minutes or so kind of flew over the head.
Where the film held firmer was upon the introduction of Simone, Hoskins’s female counterpart that drives the plot forward. Her position within the story, as well as her volatile position in Hoskins’s life, allows a lot of character exploration that kept interest level, if not gradually rising. A growing fondness between them creates a wholesome relationship that keeps them working together despite their differences. Well, I thought so at first.
Mona Lisa is a lot like the Mona Lisa. Funny how that works. Pertaining to the work of art, its intentions are vague at best, with many theorizing as to why the central figure looks the way she does. Pertaining to the film, its intentions are ironic, playing with the general formula of noir films of the past that you would expect. At first, I believed it would cruise into a specific ending, but I was surprised by how it went along. Something… more sinister, almost.
A theme in play here seems to be power. Dynamics in relationships, whether between man and woman, boss and underling, or sexual and non-sexual. Simone is a prostitute, and this doesn’t align with George’s (Hoskins) sense of morality. More than that, though, it’s something that he craves in a genuine sense. The opposing temperaments about her position in life, as well as both of their position under an ominous shady boss character, drives the deeper surfaces.
Yes, too, it ended up a great decision to see Hoskins in another starring role. He’s great here, though many other actors do their fair share of work, too. His father-like vibe is only as strong as his penchant for aggressiveness. Having him pummel people without a second thought, as well as leaving people high and dry because he’s caught up in his own frustration, is always so visceral. His mold is that of an ordinary guy, which is great for this story.
All that said, it didn’t hook me quite as much as it could have. Something about the way it all went about kind of took me off-guard—perhaps a re-watch could assist in seeing all the pieces of irony scattered since the beginning. I was immersed, only not incredibly so. An almost comfortable drift from reality, not quite the sort of dreariness one would expect from the ending. I came out of it just thinking, “…Huh? Oh, all right.”
Neo noir is still pretty neat, except this felt almost like a parody of one while also still adhering to it. Not a terrible amount of style to it, even if it made up for it in pivotal moments and character chemistry. An enjoyable piece that would be a good recommendation just for the performances and underlying wittiness. Certainly no Blade Runner, it nonetheless makes for a memorable drive.
Final Score: 6.5/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
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