I remember seeing the first Green Book trailer and being surprised by how enjoyable it looked. It’s got two of my favourite actors in Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, and that alone set my expectations quite high going into the film. I did see some reviewers criticising its handling of sensitive issues, which gave me reason to be a little worried.
We are introduced to Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and immediately you can see what kind of world this guy is from. He is a tough Italian American working class man, just trying to provide for his family however he can. The 60s setting is absolutely nailed, and you can straight away believe the world and the characters in it. Mortensen is great in his role, coming off to me as a genuine well-meaning guy, who doesn’t take life too seriously. Being a white Italian American family in the 1960’s there is a sense of unease around black characters which is uncomfortable to watch at times, but the film doesn’t let that dominate the film.
Tony’s job search leads him to Doctor Shirley (Mahershala Ali) who employs him to be his driver for his tour around the deep south of the United States. At the time, black musicians were scarcely seen doing this kind of tour, and the title “Green Book” comes from the actual book of the same name, that gave a list of all the safe places a black person could stay in the deep south. The fact that such a preposterous and stupid thing was being done just 60 years ago is sickening in itself, the fact that there are likely some places that are still like that is just beyond comprehension.
The racist actions some characters take in this film are shocking and I do see why some people feel these topics should be dealt with and commentated on in a more in-depth way, but to me these events are presented as an attitude that Doctor Shirley was driven to change. The story here is not one about Racism in the Deep South, as much as that is a part of the film. The real heart of this film is in the relationship that develops between two people from completely different backgrounds, coming together and learning from one another.
The two lead actors are absolutely brilliant in their roles, and I completely agree with the nominations they have both received. As I mentioned previously, Mortensen becomes Tony Lip and is unrecognisable. That’s something for me as I am a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings film, and he plays my favourite character, so to see Tony Lip and not Viggo Mortensen performing is something. Mahershala Ali is never anything less that good, and unlike Alita Battle Angel, this film gives him plenty to work with. The intensity in his performance is perfectly undercut by the nuance in some of the glances and moments when he gives away the vulnerability beneath his confident and classy demeanor.
The dynamic between these two is brilliant and their chemistry carries the film. The journey the two go on and the influence they have upon each other grows throughout the film, and by the end I felt uplifted and happy for them both. Each of them have a couple of real stand out moments, and I think it’s those moments that might put the Golden statues in their hands.
I was surprised to see Peter Farrelly directed this film. He is a comedy director, and whilst this film is funny in its own right, it’s a massive departure from something like Dumb and Dumber. The subtlety this film uses to tell its story is not something I’d have thought was in his toolbox, but it’s a welcome surprise. I am now looking forward to his next more dramatic film, whatever that may be.
Green Book is not a film about race, it’s a film about friendship, and how it can spawn between even the most unlikely of people. That is the message here, and yes it does touch on some very important issues, they were not the aim of this film. There is a story there to be told, but for me the story we got was beautiful in its own right.
I watched this film the same day I watched Fate of the Furious. I love movies.
Good: Two brilliant performances and an uplifting story and some great piano playing.
Bad: Handles the race issues a little lightly, and never threatens to delve too deeply into them, it didn’t ruin my enjoyment though. Supporting cast are all decent at best, but they’re not in it very much.
8/10 – Thoroughly enjoyable film, to reach that top-tier it needed to dive into those sensitive issues and handle them well.