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Mona Lisa: The Criterion Collection

Neil Jordan is an enigmatic director who often layers a dark, stylish façade of romance over the complicated passions of men and women. The 1986 Mona Lisa, one of Jordan's earlier films, explores these male/female ambiguities in a tale of petty crooks and prostitution. The film stars Bob Hoskins as George, a small-time hood recently released from prison — a man "outside time" thrown back into a society that no longer fits his 1950s values. Having done time to protect his boss Mortwell (Michael Caine), George expects to be taken care of now that he is out, and therefore ends up getting a job as a driver for "a tall thin black tart" — prostitute Simone (Cathy Tyson), who services clients in ritzy hotels and lavish mansions. The film builds slowly as George tries to acclimate himself to his new and more complex world, and as he and Simone dance around each other's divergent personas. Although George acknowledges his lack of class and Simone is obviously a woman of sophistication and taste, George feels a type of natural superiority because, after all, Simone is a hooker. Yet, while both of these characters seem to believe their tough exteriors reveal little about themselves to others, both are lonely, and their craving for love and attention is obvious. It also is this deep need that turns their initial friction with each other into an unusual, protective friendship. Having once worked the seamier side of the business with a pimp who beat both her and a fellow prostitute, Simone desperately wants to find her friend, asking George for help. It seems a simple favor at first, but it leads George into the darkest parts of London's porn and prostitution underground, putting him at odds with the nefarious Mortwell (as Jordan explains, "George is the kind of character that never understands the bigger picture.") Mysterious and entertaining, Mona Lisa is a subtle and beautifully rendered film with excellent, layered performances by an outstanding cast, and the moral and emotional issues Jordan takes on in this picture foreshadow his 1992 The Crying Game. Criterion's DVD offers the film in a 1.77:1 letterbox transfer (not anamorphic) from the 35mm interpostive, while audio in Dolby Digital 2.0. Commentary with Jordan and Hoskins, taken from the 1996 Laserdisc edition. Keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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