See It Instead: Bob Hoskins Retrospective
Sometimes a movie comes along and makes you aware of an itch you never knew you had. Perhaps a review piqued your interest, or you’d rather stay in and pay yourself $10 for a small popcorn and watch a movie on the cheap. Perhaps you’re valiantly struggling through your queue on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and need a wise, cultured voice to direct you to where the real movie viewing gold is hiding amidst the terrible Gangster movies . Well, look no further. See It Instead is here to take today’s new releases and guide you to what you should really be watching.
This week we lost a fine and under-appreciated actor when Bob Hoskins passed away at the age of 71. Except for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Hoskins rarely received top billing, often taking smaller roles- often roles that grew to importance as he fleshed them out with great performances. Hoskins was often type cast as a gangster or hard-line politico (fun fact: Hoskins had played Khrushchev, Mussolini, Churchill, J. Edgar Hoover and Manuel Noriega in his career!) which makes his comedic turns in Hook and Roger Rabbit that much more impressive. One can even find reasons to love his turn as Mario in Super Mario Bros, a role that probably managed to out-weird his time working with Terry Gilliam on Brazil! Rather than put down 10 dollars to see Incredible Man-Spiders or Johnny Depp ruining another movie, why not queue up some of Hopkins’ most memorable roles, and See It Instead.
The Serious Pick: Mona Lisa (1986)
Hopkins often found himself playing unsavory characters with checkered histories. His breakout role came as an English Mafia boss desperately trying to unravel a plot to murder him before the crescendo of violence can unravel his hopes of going legit as a real estate mogul in The Long Good Friday. Mona Lisa sees Hopkins return to these grim surroundings, this time as a down and out ex-con hired to chauffeur call girls around for the rich and powerful. A long stint in the can has taught him to bury his thoughts and feelings deep, which makes him an excellent driver for illicit trysts, but a complete wasteland as a human being. A chance encounter with Simone (Cathy Tyson) begins to erode the walls he’s built around himself, and he finds himself becoming deeply involved with helping Simone find order and solace in a life where she has very little say over her circumstances.
Less a story about love and redemption than one of old scores coming home to roost, and the difficulty of changing one’s lot in life, Mona Lisa is an excellent character study of two broken individuals and the diseased environment that brings them together. Hopkins was nominated for scads of awards for his role in Mona Lisa, including an Oscar nod for best actor.
The Lighthearted Pick: Hook (1991)
While adept at playing the tough guy, Bob Hoskins greatest successes were for comedies. His early turn in Brazil, working under demented director and Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam, showcased his chops as a straight man surrounded by lunacy. These traits, and a track record of playing washed up private dicks, led him to the breakthrough role as Eddy Valiant in the live-action/animated noir Who Framed Roger Rabbit? While it seemed that Hoskins was to be relegated to playing straight-men to manic partners, a second chance at playing a character in a cartoon world would shatter those expectations.
When folks ask me who Bob Hoskins was, I only need to mention Hook, and then watch the joy of recognition in their eyes. Everyone loved his portrayal of Smee, the selfish and bumbling cabin boy for the vain-glorious Captain Hook (here played by Dustin Hoffman.) While the role smacks of second fiddle, Hopkins practically stole every scene away from Hoffman that they shared, and turned Smee into a fully realized character, albeit a completely lazy, conniving, and ludicrous one. In a wonderful cast, full of big names and full time comedians, Hoskins stands tall and gives us one more reason to never want to grow up and leave Neverland.
The Unconventional Pick: Shattered (1991)
I have a soft spot in my heart for Shattered, a psychological thriller/noir film (it seems as if a film gets a noir rating just by having Hoskins in it…) Not the best received film in his repertoire, Shattered nonetheless manages to do a wonderful job recreating the feel of Hitchcock films like Rear Window or Vertigo. The story centers around Tom Berrenger’s character who has just recovered from a horrific accident and extensive reconstructive surgery. The whole process has resulted in amnesia (mother’s little helper when it comes to who-dunnits) and Tom can only remember fragments of his life before the crash. Unfortunately, those fragments don’t jibe with the history his wife and business partners give him. Attempting to track down clues to what actually happened the night of his accident, he comes across Gus, a seedy private eye played by Bob Hoskins, who reveals that Tom hired him to track his wife. Gus had discovered an affair, and events had come to head on the fateful night of the accident. The pair continue the investigation, which quickly turns deadly.
Without giving away the good stuff, this film manages to capture that feel of unreliability that made Hitchcock’s characters so much fun. Nobody is telling the truth or playing straight, and sometimes the lies are so thick upon each other that they conceal the truth in plain site. Don’t let anybody spoil the ending for you, as it will effect how you view the whole movie. If you do come across a spoilered review, feel free to beat the author with a tire iron and drop them in the bay. Bob would have wanted it that way.
There are so many good films that Bob Hoskins was a part of, either as an actor or as a director (his surreal war film The Raggedy Rawney is well worth your time) that it’s nearly impossible to end a list on just three films. An enduring legacy is like that: Impossible to pick a favorite, because they’re all so good. Well. Except for Super Mario Bros. Can’t win em all, I guess.