By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
2014 has already been an awful year for “that guy” character actors, as we’ve lost Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mickey Rooney, James Rebhorn, and now, recently, Bob Hoskins. When writing a remembrance piece for him, I realized how few of his films I’d seen, and consequently how big of a mark he had made in them.
Second only to the mark Jessica Rabbit made on my puberty.
For all the roles Hoskins had, though, he only received one Oscar nomination, and I figured that was the logical place to start in his filmography that I’d missed so far. In Mona Lisa he plays a cockney tough recently released from prison after taking a fall for his boss (Michael Caine). He’s given a job chauffeuring a high-class escort (Cathy Tyson) and ends up embroiled in the scuzzy, dangerous world of the London sex trade as he searches for a lost prostitute friend of his escort charge.
Hoskins received the lion’s share of accolades for this film and for good reason. He plays a man who knows he’s not particularly smart or charismatic, but who still wants something better. He’s got no problems with breaking the law or a few heads if he must, but he’s fundamentally decent at heart, and vehemently protective of those in his circle. The character feels entirely genuine and whole, and you can’t help rooting for him and feeling his pain when he’s manipulated or wronged.
Cathy Tyson is just as good in a much more guarded, femme fatale-esque role. Her motivations are secret, but her longing isn’t, and is very affecting. Michael Caine and Clarke Peters (yes, Lester Freamon is a pimp in this) both get to play against type- slimy, and hella intimidating.
80s Alfred was a Dick
Neil Jordan accentuates the seedy 80s vibe of the film by drowning it in teals and pinks (and subtler shades of blue and red). Especially during the night scenes, the colors really pop, and create an almost fairytale-like 80s noir ambiance.
Almost fairytale-like. There’s a school of thought on the film that it’s all a fictional tale made up on the spot by Hoskins’ character, but I don’t buy it. It would explain the limp, thoroughly tacked on “happy” ending and the assorted oddities in the film (plastic spaghetti?), but I’m not sure why exactly Hoskins would be telling this story of underage prostitutes and violent sex rings to his teenage daughter and her best friend in the first place, and not much else in the film supports this theory.
I understand that Hoskins’ character’s upbringing and environment account for most of the racist crap he says, but you’d think it’d peter off once he became friends and maybe something more with Tyson’s character. You’d be wrong. A little less of that would’ve been nice.
Mona Lisa is an atmospheric 80s noir tragedy boasting one of the late great Bob Hoskins’ best performances.
Take a Drink: every time Hoskins’ temper flares
Take a Drink: whenever he’s 0verprotective
Take a Drink: every time “Mona Lisa” plays on the radio
Take a Drink: for nightwalker drivebys
Do a Shot: if you hear Neil Jordan and can’t help waiting for the other penis to drop
Do a Shot: whenever Hoskins calls someone a cow