18 November 2007

Sorry Paul Newman...

...but that Oscar you have belongs to this guy:

As a cinephile, what I really enjoyed and appreciated about Mona Lisa was the clear inspiration the film drew from Taxi Driver, and how that comparison created expectations in me as the audience, expectations the director Neil Jordan used to suprise by fulfilling them in ways different than I would have expected.


The Taxi Driver influence isn't hard to find. Shots of Hoskins' car driving through the streets at night as steam rises from the street, and the basic idea of a man being confronted by the dirty underbelly of the city he lives in are clearly similar to aspects of Martin Scorsese's classic. Even a scene featuring Hoskins and a young prostitute set in an ice cream parlor calls to mind the diner scene between Robert DeNiro and Jodie Foster.

That's not to say the film is a carbon copy. Bob Hoskins' character George is, in some ways, less angry and more emotionally fragile. Despite the fact he's spent 7 years in prison, he hardly seems like a hardened criminal. He's certainly not the smooth gangster Michael Caine's character is.

When he asks his friend Thomas (wonderfully played by Robbie Coltrane) for a gun, we're afraid that he will follow the Travis Bickle route, partially because the Taxi Driver influence makes it seem plausible. Where the movie's genius lies, however, is in the revelation that Cathy Tyson's Simone is not the victim we would expect. It is she who blows away Michael Caine's gangster, just as Robert DeNiro blew away Harvey Keitel.

I don't mean to make too much of the similarities between the two films. If you asked Neil Jordan, I'm sure he would be the first to admit the inspiration Taxi Driver gave him in the making of Mona Lisa. Rather than just retelling that story, however, Jordan departs from that story in ways that surprise by breaking audience expectations.

Bob Hoskins and Cathy Tyson have great chemistry (when they're supposed to) and manage to inject a refreshing vibrancy to the usually cliché love/hate relationship. It's a testament to both actors that, until everyone's secrets are revealed, we feel a romantic relationship is inevitable.

As for Michael Caine, what can I say? He's been in 85% of movies released every year since 1983, usually delivering memorable performances, and this is no exception. His gangster is simultaneously terrifying and fascinating in the way only movie mobsters are. His is a showy role, surely, but Caine is the king of the showy role.

Perhaps the end ties up a little too nicely for some. All in all, though, Mona Lisa is a great movie featuring what should have been Bob Hoskins' Oscar winning role. Neil Jordan is usually a hit-or-miss filmmaker and, luckily, this one is right on the money.

(Pictures from Movie Stills Index)

1 comment:

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