I was saddened to hear that British actor Bob Hoskins has announced his retirement from acting due to Parkinson’s disease. I have to admit that after seeing him as the dwarf Muir in Snow White and The Huntsman, I am not surprised. While he was appropriately wise and full of gravitas in the role, I could see that he seemed to have lost the undercurrent of fire and energy that once made him an unlikely A-List star duringHollywood’s most superficial period. There are a few films Hoskins did inEnglandthat gave him some notice, particularly an iconic British gangster film called The Long Good Friday, where he famously said, “Yanks, I shit em.” After more impressive roles he gave what is, in my opinion, one of the best film performances of the 1980s in Neil Jordon’s Mona Lisa. I was not alone in my admiration of his work in this film as it got Hoskins an Oscar nomination and brought him across the pond where he would then work with such Hollywood big shots as Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman, andCher. So I find myself compelled to sing his praises and suggest that you check his work out in this small but powerful crime drama.
Hoskins plays George, a newly released convict who has taken the fall for a local mobster called Mortwell, well played by Michael Caine. George doesn’t expect Mortwell to compensate him or express any sort of gratitude for his lost years, but he would, if possible, like a job of some kind. Mortwell gets George a job driving an upscale prostitute by the name of Simone, and she is played by Cathy Tyson. George and Simone’s relationship starts out pretty shaky. He’s a little rough and uncouth for Simone’s taste, and for George’s part, he has some trouble overcoming his Cockney given bigotry towards blacks. Eventually they warm up to each other, and a friendship based on trust is born. Soon Simone asks George to help her locate a young runaway prostitute inLondonthat she feels compelled to shelter. At the same time, Mortwell tells George that he would like him to cozy up to Simone as a way to acquire blackmail material on one of her wealthy clients. These complications lead to a bloody and heartbreaking climax that leaves George, like all good film noir heroes, more broken and wounded than he was when the story started.
Tyson is very good as a modern take on the classic femme fatale, as she seems to be both playing George while also caring for him. If you are only familiar with Caine from his recent work as a reliable father figure in Christopher Nolan’s movies, you’ll likely be shocked with his scary work here. There are some other great performances from Robbie Coltrane as George’s sweet giant of a friend, Clarke Peters as an abusive pimp, and Sammi Davis as a young streetwalker. Ultimately it is Hoskins’ work here that makes the film a classic. In this role, Hoskins is tough, naïve, soulful, and ultimately tragic. Of course much credit to master storyteller Neil Jordan for not only delivering one of several great movies, but also for pointing a light on the unconventional yet none the less charismatic craftsman that is Bob Hoskins. Cheers Mate!
Mona Lisa is currently available for streaming on Netflix and Vudu.