Mona Lisa on Blu-ray
by Jef Burnham
Available on Blu-ray August 24, 2010 from Image Entertainment.
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In the late-1970s, George Harrison (yes, the Beatle) co-founded HandMade Films in order to help his pals, the Monty Python troupe, complete their picture Life of Brian when their original funding fell through. Harrison’s company would subsequently produce some of the most iconic films to come out of the UK in the 1980s. Now, Image Entertainment is bringing to Blu-ray for the first time in the U.S. four titles from this golden era of HandMade Films, including Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa, The Long Good Friday, and Withnail and I, all of which I’ll be reviewing individually.*
Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa, the first of two films in this series of Blu-ray releases from Image to star Bob Hoskins, earned Hoskins 10 Best Actor Awards in 1986, including those given by the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globes and BAFTA, as well as a nomination at the Academy Awards. Hoskins stars as George, a classless ex-con who becomes the chauffeur for high-class call girl, Simone (Cathy Tyson), with whom he develops a reluctant, tentative friendship of sorts. The interaction between the two ultimately finds George searching the London underworld for a missing young prostitute, an old friend of Simone’s.
As a pseudo-mystery venturing into the topical arena of child prostitution, there are definitely shades of Chinatown and Taxi Driver throughout. However, rather than focusing on the mystery, the crimes, or even justice, the film is really about love and devotion with the relationship between George and Simone acting as the driving thematic force of the picture. The relationship develops subtly— naturally and realistically— allowing Hoskins to show virtually the entire range of his abilities in his exchanges with Cathy Tyson alone. And in its ambiguity, their connection raises more questions about love and attachment than the rest of the film does about prostitution and the mistreatment of women, preventing the darker themes of George’s journey into the underworld from dominating the film.
Two-time Academy Award-winner Michael Caine and Robbie Coltrane (star of Cracker, and, of course, the Harry Potter series) also star, delivering marvelously understated performances in key supporting roles.
In terms of picture quality, Mona Lisa is among the top two releases in this series (along with Withnail and I). There are very few blemishes on the print used for the HD transfer, and the grain of the original film stock is gorgeously preserved. Also preserved is the film’s typically 80s slightly-saturated color pallette with its overwhelming grays and brilliantly popping reds. The audio too is perfectly dynamic, pulling back and then bursting through at all the right moments to keep you on edge as this thriller heats up. Again, however, only the theatrical trailer is included in the way of special features, but, hey, they’re budget titles.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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