Mona Lisa [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Image Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (31st October 2010).
The Film

Recently Image Entertainment acquired a collection of catalog titles from British production house Hand Made Films. The company formed in 1978 by former Beatle George Harrison and business partner Denis O'Brien to produce the Monty Python films. Notable "Monty Python's The Life of Brian" (1979), after that success the company would go on to produce many more films of notable quality and equally regarded by critics that include "The Long Good Friday" (1980), "Time Bandits" (1981), "Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl" (1982), "The Missionary" (1982), "Privates on Parade" (1982), "Bullshot" (1983), "Scrubbers" (1983), "A Private Function" (1984), "Water" (1985) and in 1986 they made their 11th feature, "Mona Lisa" from director Neil Jordan (probably most famous for his 1992 film "The Crying Game"). Throughout the 80's and 90's more films came out from the pipeline that increased the company profile, only to be absorbed by a corporation in the mid 90's. The 80's was an interesting time in British cinema, having moved on from the classic "Kitchen Sink" dramas, new and interesting filmmakers emerged to deliver a much darker, more raw style of drama with films like this. On the flip-side there was also as many more absurdist comedies with the likes of the Pythons producing films. It seemed like there was no middle ground, you either got the comedy or the darkness. Some can argue the best of British cinema came from the 80's and early 90's.

by 1986 Neil Jordan had made a couple of films but it would be "Mona Lisa" that broke him into the mainstream, with a steamy noir thriller that would also launch the career of Bob Hoskins and garner the then unknown British actor an Academy Award nomination for "Best Actor." Some audiences already got a taste for Hoskins in "The Long Good Friday" (1980) a seminal British gangster film but it was his turn as petty criminal George that cemented his status as a major player.

"Mona Lisa" tells the story of George (Bob Hoskins), a criminal recently released from prison and looking for a job, eager to get going and make some money, he becomes a driver for a call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson). George and Simone don't initially see eye-to-eye but eventually a relationship forms from the nights out driving her from one client to the next. As the two discover more about each other, Simone reveals to George that she's constantly looking for a long lost friend, a girl whose been abused from her enigmatic past. George agrees to help Simone look for her friend that takes him deep into the seedy underbelly of the night and to a violent resolution.

Neil Jordan's film starts in a haze of darkness and seediness firmly perched on the doorstep of classic noir right down to the film's haunting score. The film's narrative slowly unfolds like a pot boiler as viewers learn of both George and Simone as they learn about each other. George battles with a wife that no longer wants anything to do with him, only able to see his daughter by seeing her after school for a only moments of a day. George has a best friend in Thomas (Robbie Coltrane) who acts as his sounding board and voice of reason, as George deals with crime boss and general dodgy character Mortwell (Michael Caine). While Simone carries a drive in her that's more than just about money, she's constantly searching for a lost friend, her character arc adds much more depth to what could otherwise be another in a line of clichéd hooker roles. Cathy Tyson's aloof portrayal adds to the mystery of the character as audiences are instantly intrigued by her motivations and actions. Jordan plays on this outstandingly well, and crafts a believable relationship between George and Simone that can also be pegged down to both these actor's abilities in crafting real and relatable characters despite their professions.

A film like this lives and breathes with its casting and Jordan has it spot on with these two leads, also peppering the film with excellent supporting performances by Michael Caine and Robbie Coltrane. Caine brings a sophisticated charm to his crime boss character yet he also comes across as snake-like and oily. Seeing a young Coltrane was a lot of fun, heavy with his Scottish accent, he is a comic foil to George's criminal character, a side kick and the moral sounding board, he offers up a excellent turn here and always keeps things realistic without ever crossing the comedy line, Jordan reels in his performance and it works.

"Mona Lisa" is a dark film with a surprising and violent end, it's slow moving and almost always focused on the characters and their relationship, so its not for everyone, but if you're interested in British noir you can do worse. "Mona Lisa" comes highly recommended.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 in HD for the first time 1080p 24/fps mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression. I'm not going to lie to you dear viewer, this transfer isn't good, it's lacking in almost every respect, yet how much of that is down to neglected elements or mastering isn't clear (I suspect a bit of both). The film was made on a small budget in the 1980's, so the film stocks used definitely show their age here in HD. Grain is heavy, and to make matters worse there's plenty of compression noise that makes the night scenes nearly unwatchable, lacking in any sort of detail with backgrounds appearing smudgy. Colors are inconsistent, with some scenes looking bold and brilliant, while others are not so great, it's as if someone left a print of the film out in the sun and then transferred that to Blu-ray (ok maybe not that bad, but it's noticeable). Close-ups are occasionally soft and also lacking in detail, again, while others look decent and well rendered. There's dirt, specks and hair line scratches that pop up as well. It's a sub-standard high-def image that needs a solid restoration and clean up fro the original elements. It's a shame that the Criterion Collection haven't revisited this title on Blu-ray and had a hand at creating a decent transfer. For the time being this image is slightly better than previous DVD editions, but only just.

Audio

A single audio track is included in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit, being a purist I'd have preferred the film's original audio track rather than an up-mixed lossless track. The film is dialogue driven, and while the dialogue is clear and distortion free, the primary audio is focused on the front. Depth is lacking as Image has mixed the track to 5.1 specs separating the score to multiple channels and basically thins out the audio and thus is less impacting, a shame because the score is so great.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired only.

Extras

Image has included only a single extra, the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds. Sadly the audio commentary produced for the Criterion Collection DVD has not been licensed for this release, so it's best you stick to that copy of you have it.

Overall

The Film: A+ Video: C- Audio: C- Extras: F Overall: D

 


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