Neil Jordan is one of those directors whose films I really want to like, yet something always gets in the way, usually the pacing. Sadly, Mona Lisa is no exception, though it certainly has its strengths. Bob Hoskins gives a strong performance as a man slowly (very slowly) dragged into the seedy underbelly of London, and his chemistry with Cathy Tyson makes the film worth sticking with. It also features some nicely handled tense sequences, and the film's one big blow up of violence is quite effective in its simplicity. Mona Lisa isn't striving to be a crime epic; the nature of its story is small, even though the consequences can be severe. Unfortunately, Jordan's pacing isn't on the same level of consistency as the performances, and as such it's easy for one's mind to wander in the first hour, which becomes repetitive after a while. A noble effort with strong parts that ultimately add up to a whole that isn't quite all there.
Long before Danny Boyle was filling the screen with zombies or taking us through the streets of Mumbai, he made a little movie about drug addiction that catapulted him into the limelight, and for good reason. It's got Boyle's signature all over it, which helps keep the often dour plot from becoming unrepentant misery porn. There are even a few moments of black comedy that work nicely to punctuate the unsettling subject matter. Yet when Boyle wants to make the film hit hard, he does so masterfully. In what is easily the film's best scene, we see Renton (the wonderful Ewan McGregor) going into withdrawal in his childhood bedroom. Boyle pulls out all of the surreal stops here, and the longer the sequence goes on, the more powerful it becomes. Even though smaller characters don't feel as well-rounded as Renton does, Boyle captures the lower middle class druggie lifestyle with such skill that it does little to hamper the film's impact. Pair this with a screening of Requiem for a Dream, and you'll never even think about doing meth or cocaine for quite some time.