English actor, Bob Hoskins, died back in 2014 and his presence on screen is still sorely missed. It was the boiling anger simmering underneath an exterior of a “man’s man” complete with a fatal romantic streak which gave Hoskins his likability even under explosions of violence.
The nineteen eighties were the pinnacle of Bob Hoskins’ acting career, giving him some of the best roles that clearly displayed his brilliant craft; “The Long Good Friday”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, and probably his most touching and achingly heartfelt performance as George in Neil Jordan’s “Mona Lisa” (released in 1986).
“Mona Lisa” is a story of an ex-con recently released from prison trying to ingratiate himself back into society by taking a job from a former boss; a job that will involve him in a dark underbelly of London’s prostitution ring and a second chance at love. The woman, that casts a spell on George, hides a mysterious secret much like the Mona Lisa painting as the song standard is heard throughout by Nat King Cole. The film is full of surprises and still holds up very well today.
What makes Hoskins’ performance special in this film can be found in the layers he peels off as the story unfolds. His behavior, at first, seems brutish and cheap. He loses his temper quickly, but soon reprimands himself. He wants to be better and he wants to be respected. He also wants to be loved, as we soon discover. There is none quite like Hoskins that can go from sudden violence to tearful loss and regret in a single scene. He inhabits the lonely existence of George, who’s only aim in life is to be happy again. He wishes to be happy with himself and to be happy with someone in his life. For proof of Hoskins unique ability, just watch his face and eyes closely when George discovers the woman’s hidden secret. The world crumbles in his eyes and it just breaks the viewers heart to witness it.
Bob Hoskins was the antithesis of a movie star with his short gruff stature, cockney accent, and average tough looks. What lies beneath this facade was a brilliant actor who made you feel and root for him. As George, he could show you the loneliness with simple asides such as stopping at a park bench to gaze at a sunrise. “Mona Lisa” is a wonderfully drawn character study masquerading as a tidy little thriller. It cemented Hoskins’ star quality right after his dazzling explosive performance in “The Long Good Friday”. Depicting loneliness is a hard nut to crack in cinema because of the danger of straying into cliche ridden territories. “Mona Lisa” does not give its heart easily. Nor does it pander to the romanticism of tough guy with a heart of gold. These seem like real people with real complicated emotions and it is a credit to the filmmakers that followed this path.
“She had faith in him. She believed in him. And he had a lot of hopes for her. And there was love. Yeah. She was in love alright. She really was. But not with him.”
Mona Lisa (1986) directed by Neil Jordan, written by Neil Jordan and David Leland.