A working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.
Taking two mismatched characters and setting them off on a journey together is often a winning combination in cinema, and Peter Farrelly’s ‘Green Book’ is the latest release to take this approach. It sets out to tell the story of a concert tour of the Deep South in the 1960s, when celebrated African-American concert pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) recruited an Italian-American bouncer called Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) to serve as his driver and his bodyguard. Shirley is well spoken, mannered and intelligent. Vallelonga is not. The film follows the two men on this journey as they bond with one another through their differences, whilst also facing the challenges presented for a black man travelling through this part of the country at this point in time.
The ‘Green Book’ of the title refers to a mid-20th century guidebook designed to help African-American travellers find motels and restaurants that would accept them and we watch Shirley as he maintains his dignity despite facing racism and discrimination at every turn. Often this racism comes from the people he performs for, who view him as good enough to play music for them, but not good enough to use their bathrooms or eat in their restaurants. Shirley’s approach is a dignified silence, whereas Vallelonga wants to respond with his fists. The differences between the two men are pronounced but ‘Green Book’ slowly shows both men realising the benefits of adopting some of the other man’s traits. This approach often lacks subtlety and the script is occasionally clunky, but ‘Green Book’ makes it work through the chemistry of its leads and a great deal of heart. Mahershala Ali is truly outstanding, often saying as much with a subtle glance as with words, and Viggo Mortenson, whilst occasionally a little broad, really shines in the latter stages as the two men start to understand each other more.
‘Green Book’ isn’t perfect but I felt its strengths were more than enough to overcome any flaws and I was fully invested in the characters and how their stories played out. It’s funny, affecting, Mortenson and Ali (in particular) are really good, and I was really entertained by this film.
As a side note, I highly recommend this article from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (former NBA player and sometime actor) regards alleged historical inaccuracies.
Directed By: Peter Farrelly
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Dimitar Marinov, Mike Hatton, Iqbal Theba, Sebastian Maniscalco, Von Lewis and P.J. Byrne