Bob Hoskins made two widely popular movies in the 1980s and this was
one of them. Having seen the other, "The Long Good Friday," I wasn't
expecting too much but was pleasantly surprised. Hoskins, just out of
the slams, is hired to drive a high-end black hooker, Cathy Tyson, from
one wealthy client to another. He grows to care for her and when she
asks him for a favor, find a strung-out young girl named Kathy, a
former roomie of hers, he agrees. He searches the seedier places of
London until he finally digs her up. She very young and very hooked.
Robbie Coltrane is Hoskins' friend, and Michael Caine is a sort of
procurer. The ending is both distressing and violent -- distressing
because some of these characters are fully fleshed and we feel we've
come to know them.
The film is quite nicely done. The score makes much use of Nat "King"
Cole's ballad, Mona Lisa, evoking mystery, and it's appropriate. The
composer has worked what seem to be endless variations of the first
four notes of the theme into the score. We hear it in the background
often, in minor key, or played exclusively on double bass, or burnished
by horns. Those four notes insinuate themselves into the incidental
music so often that a listener loses the sense that they are the
introduction to a pop song and they come to have an ominous functional
autonomy, disembodied from the simple tune that prompted it. They
become their own song.
The acting is fine. Bob Hoskins is an essentially moral guy, short and
unprepossesing, who first shows up on screen wearing an echt-1970s
bell-bottomed leisure suit (he's been in for seven years, remember) and
carrying a bouqet of flowers that his wife, berserk with anger, tells
him what to do with. His gradual attraction to his passenger is nicely
laid out, as are the reasons for his occasional displays of violence.
He's a sensitive guy, but not too thoughtful. A lot of things get by
him. But, to be fair, they get by the viewer too.
There's an element of humor running through the film, mostly expressed
in the relationship between Hoskins and Coltrane, who plays a writer
and a sculptor of things made of plastic spaghetti. ("The Japanese have
cornered the market.") The dialogue is pretty funny in a low-key way.
Hoskins and Coltrane sit watching TV and Hoskins remarks something
like, "Remember that guy who was murdered? Well, I did it." Coltrane:
"You're not joking?" Hoskins (turning and staring grimly): "I -- never
-- joke." Coltrane: "You used to tell that one about the randy
gorilla." And here is Hoskins describing his passenger, telling
Coltrane that she's not out to exploit him, Hoskins, because "she's a
lady." Coltrane: "A lady? I thought you said she was a tart." Hoskins:
"Well -- she is, but she's a f****** lady too."
And Cathy Tyson almost beggars description, tall, slender, lithe, not
staggeringly beautiful or sexy, but her appeal extends far beyond mere
appearance. She's gorgeous in the most personal way. She tends to keep
her face down and her eyes lowered, almost demurely, and her voice is
soft and low, just above a whisper, although you never have to strain
to hear what she's saying because her pronunciation is modulated and
precise. It's soothing, in control and at the same time reassuring, the
voice of an announcer on a late-night FM station playing nothing but
classical music. You could listen to her for hours. You could look at
her for hours too, for that matter. Michael Caine doesn't have a big or
showy part, but he's so reliable that he's always a pleasure to see on
screen. I can't think of a single film that has been damaged by his
presence, although he's been in a few bummers.
The photography is perceptive. We get a good deal of local color not
only from the London locations but from "the seaside," where everything
comes to a head. There isn't a lot of violence. What there is of it is
quick and pointed.
See it if you get the chance.