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Bob Hoskins, Leading Man

BOB HOSKINS The Cockney bulldog.

BOB HOSKINS The Cockney bulldog.

HOLLYWOOD'S blockbusteriest summer trundles along with the opening of Snow White and the Huntsman this weekend, but tucked beneath that film's marquee stars are two words to set any film lover's heart aflutter: Bob. Hoskins.

Mr. Robert William Hoskins has settled comfortably into his role as reliable character actor (in this Snow White, he plays a dwarf), but earlier in his career, the Cockney bulldog was an entirely unlikely—and compelling—leading man. (In 1995 he also directed an inexplicable kiddie flick, Rainbow, which no one has ever watched—but you need to watch the trailer right now. Holy shit.) Hoskins' big claim to fame is 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in which the short, balding, virtually unknown Brit was hired to play the lead in what was then the most expensive film ever made. His sometimes questionable American accent aside, it's clear why: Hoskins spends all his screen time interacting with characters that were drawn in later—and completely pulls it off. Think of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, and you'll realize how much better Hoskins did it.

The makers of Roger Rabbit must've seen Hoskins in 1980's razor-sharp thriller The Long Good Friday. In his first prominent role, Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a London thug clobbering his way into legitimate business. On the eve of the deal that could make him millions, Harold's closest associates start turning up dead—it's part exploitation gangster flick, part existential nightmare, all driven by Hoskins' barely contained rage.

He explored the flipside of that coin in 1986's Mona Lisa. Hoskins plays a gangster again, but unlike Friday's Harold, Mona Lisa's gentle George has just been released from prison to find himself at the bottom of London's criminal food chain. George has issues with his wife and daughter—issues with all women, it turns out—and stupidly falls for the absolute wrong person: the high-end prostitute he's been hired to chauffeur. Turning more surreal and unsettling as it progresses, Mona Lisa boasts Freudian dream imagery, terrific supporting roles from Michael Caine and Robbie Coltrane, and Genesis' schmaltziest '80s ballad on the soundtrack (sung by Hoskins doppelganger Phil Collins). It's director Neil Jordan's—and quite possibly Hoskins'—finest work.

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