This doesn't just mean he ditches his Hawaiian shirt for a double breasted suit. Rather, she also gives him the quest of finding her lost friend Cathy. George, in his suit and with a new purpose of finding a damsel in distress, finally has a life that lives up to his own wounded romanticism, typified by his love of Nat 'King' Cole's music and the detective novels he devours and discusses with Thomas. It's typical of Jordan's originality that he doesn't give them Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler to read but rather the brilliant, enigmatic and surreal John Franklin Bardin. The latter half of the film turns into something like Taxi Driver as George faces up to Simone's violent ex-pimp Anderson (An early role for The Wire's Clarke Peters) and risks the ire of the 'nasty dirty sleazy' Mortwell, but Travis Bickle's Vietnam-inspired madness is replaced by George's buried decency. "Are you a good man?" his daughter asks. "Not for me to say," says George.
Produced by George Harrison's Handmade Films and co-written by David Leland, who went on to direct Wish You Were Here the next year, Mona Lisa sees some major British talents at the height of their powers. Bob Hoskins won the best actor award at Cannes, but Cathy Tyson matches him scene for scene, giving an intense portrayal of her doomed beauty. Likewise, Michael Caine produces in Mortwell one of his nastiest and most convincing villains: just watch the turn he takes when questioning an upper class client about a missing girl: "What did you do to her? [Pause] That's quite alright, sir. We'll find her." The look of the film is also gorgeous especially with this new 2K restoration. Terry Gilliam's favourite cinematographer Roger Pratt takes the images from an initial low key documentary style through the noirish nightmare of Soho sleaze to end up with an almost classical Hollywood framing. Note the final shot of Simone. Michael Kamen scores the movie, excellently placing Cole's songs and morphing them into a lush dramatic score. Mona Lisa is a film ripe for rediscovery, its aching melancholy and poetic oddness contrasting perfectly with its genre pretensions and another reminder of how wonderful Bob Hoskins truly was.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty