Before entering the world of filmmaking, Neil Jordan was a writer and novelist working in his native Ireland. His introduction to making movies came courtesy of John Boorman, who first hired him as part of the crew – as a “creative associate” – on Excalibur (1981) and shortly after that, served as executive producer Jordan’s first feature film Angel (1982); Jordan’s breakthrough feature was Mona Lisa, a neo noir mixed in with a little romance. Previously released on DVD by Criterion, it has been revisited and upgraded for this Blu-ray release.
The Production: 4.5/5
Just released from prison, small time criminal George (Bob Hoskins) is not warmly welcomed back into society by his estranged wife and is looking for work while sharing room and board with his friend Thomas (Robbie Coltrane). His former boss Denny Mortwell (Michael Caine) hires him as a chauffeur for the enigmatic call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson), who’s put off by the brash George at first. As time goes on, the two start to form a close and complicated bond whose ties are tested as they are plunged headlong into the seedy underbelly of London and the picaresque seaside resort town of Brighton, where blackmail and divided loyalties prevail and the heart is easily betrayed and exploited in short notice.
One of the best neo-noirs to come outside of America, Mona Lisa is one where the noir isn’t the overall prevailing theme here. Director and co-writer Neil Jordan creates a noir atmosphere yet tells the story like it was a fairy tale; the burgeoning friendship between George and Simone – and George’s infatuation with her – could definitely be seen in this context in the more lighter moments between them. Also, while this definitely isn’t a comedy, there are some humorous exchanges between George and Simone – especially when they’re bickering in their early scenes – that add some levity to the proceedings. There’s really not much to complain about here in terms of flaws present, but if you like your noir straight up, then the mixture of differing elements may be a bit off putting at first. Overall, Mona Lisa is a movie that transcends its neo-noir basis into something that’s beautifully well rounded despite the seedy trappings the main characters are in.
Following up on a dynamic performance in The Long Good Friday (1980), Bob Hoskins arguably has the best role of his career as the tough yet tender at heart George; he would receive numerous accolades for his performance including his only Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Brought over from the Royal Shakespeare Company, Cathy Tyson makes a memorable film debut as the elegantly enigmatic call girl Simone; while she also received praise for her performance – and a Golden Globe nod for Best Supporting Actress – she was left out in the cold come Oscars time. In a memorable supporting part, Michael Caine subverts his likeable charm as the oily crime boss trying to become respectable; the same year this movie came out, he would appear in the movie that would net him his first Oscar: Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. Rounding out the cast here are Robbie Coltrane as George’s friend Thomas, Clarke Peters as Simone’s former pimp Anderson, Zoe Nathenson as George’s daughter Jeannie, who desperately wants him back in her life, Pauline Melville as George’s wife, who wants nothing more to do with him and Kate Hardie as Cathy, the teenage friend of Simone whose disappearance sets in motion the heartbreak and violence lurking beneath the surface of the story here.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, taken from a 2K digital restoration performed by Arrow Films (likely from their previous Region B Blu-ray release) and supervised by Neil Jordan and cinematographer Roger Pratt. Film grain is organic, with fine details and color palette faithfully represented with minimal cases of scratches, tears, dirt or print damage present. Overall, this is likely the best the movie will ever look and is an improvement over the previous Criterion DVD.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a PCM track for this release. Dialogue is strong and clear, with sound effects and Michael Kamen’s score (and accompanying songs, including Nat King Cole’s rendition of the titular tune) given equally faithful representation; there’s little to no instances of distortion crackling or hissing present here. This release also represents an improvement over the previous Criterion DVD and likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 4/5
Commentary by writer/director Neil Jordan and actor Bob Hoskins – Recorded in 1996 and carried over from the Criterion DVD, Jordan and Hoskins share their memories and feelings on the film.
Conversation with Jordan and actress Cathy Tyson, moderated by film critic Ryan Gilbey (29:14) – Newly recorded for this release, Jordan and Tyson reflect on working together as well as other notable details from the production.
2015 interview with co-writer David Leland (19:02) – Carried over from the Region B Arrow Blu-ray release, Leland shares how the script came together with Jordan during pre-production.
2015 interview with producer Stephen Woolley (13:38) – Woolley reflects on his involvement with the movie in this archival featurette carried over from the Region B Arrow Blu-ray.
1986 Cannes Film Festival interviews with Jordan and Hoskins (10:48) – The director and actor share their feelings on the movie in these interviews recorded prior to the movie’s debut at Cannes.
Foldout featuring an essay by Gilbey
Attracting positive critical notices upon first release, Mona Lisa casts a beguiling spell with a fairy tale like approach to the neo-noir story. Criterion has bested their previous DVD release with a solid HD transfer and a great selection of special features both new and old. Very highly recommended and worth upgrading from said DVD.
Amazon.com: Mona Lisa (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] : Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Michael Caine, Robbie Coltrane, Clarke Peters, Kate Hardie, Zoe Nathenson, Sammi Davis, Rod Bedall, Joe Brown, Neil Jordan, George Harrison, Stephen Woolley, Ray Cooper, Denis O’Brien, Chris Brown, Patrick Cassavetti: Movies & TV
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