Based on the true story of an Italian-American bouncer, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) as he takes a job driving African-American pianist Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). The pair of them embark on a concert tour across the Deep South, against a backdrop of intolerance. Heart-warming friendship ensues.
Green Book feels like Oscar bait, and given it won three Oscars including Best Picture then it seemed to work quite well. The film might be based on a true story but it feels anything but original, as it is basically the story of an odd couple forced together on a trip and they inexplicably end up bonding. It’s a familiar tale that has played out countless times on the big screen before.
That being said, it’s actually a really well-executed film that’s (unexpectedly) directed by Peter Farrelly who brought other Oscar bait such as Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. At its core Green Book is a good natured film designed to have people leave the cinema filled with positivity, and it does it well.
However, the film is by no means perfect and offers a rather straightforward and optimistic take on the Deep South in the1960s. There have been a number of criticisms levelled at the film for making things too simplistic or looks at the era with a sense of nostalgia rather than confronting its violent oppression. I can understand where the complaints have come from and while it’s perhaps not a true representation of things it doesn’t always shy away from the horrors of racism.
I think the biggest problem I had is that the story is told through the eyes of Tony Lip, from the perspective of a white man looking in to the situation, when the real story would have been with showing us the world through Shirley’s eyes.
Despite all of that Green Book is still an entertaining film and that’s largely thanks to the two central performances of Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. Mortensen gives a very large performance, in every sense of the word, as the outspoken everyman who is initially rather closed minded. As things progress his attitudes begin to soften and he slowly begins to win over Shirley (and the audience) with his no-nonsense approach to life. It’s a great performance and it’s hard to believe that this is the same man went on to become the king of Gondor.
Mahershala Ali is the polar opposite of Mortensen, with a poise and grace and a meticulous attention to detail. Ali’s performance is probably the better of the two, as he balances drive to belong and succeed with an innate sadness. It’s a superb performance and one that was rightly recognised by the Academy.
Perhaps the real highlight of the film for me, and something that hadn’t really occurred to me until the very end of Green Book, as the real-life characters flashed up on screen was that Tony Lip was none other than Carmine Lupertazzi in The Sopranos.
All in all it’s an entertaining film, that’s fairly run of the mill but one that is elevated by two magnificent performances.