DIRECTOR: peter farrelly (dumb and dumber, me, myself, and irene)
STARRING: viggo mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, and Sebastian Maniscalco
REVIEWER: lyall carter
Dr. Don Shirley is a world-class African-American pianist who's about to embark on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962. In need of a driver and protection, Shirley recruits Tony Lip, a tough-talking bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. Despite their differences, the two men soon develop an unexpected bond while confronting racism and danger in an era of segregation.
In more recent years Hollywood award shows have generally given big awards to art house/festival films. Although terrific films, they are not as easily accessible by a wider audience outside of critics or those that love more indie movies. Green Book might just change that.
You wouldn't mess with Tony Lip. He's an Italian enforcer at a 1960's nightclub, taking care of troublesome patrons with his fists. After the nightclub closes, Tony finds work driving Dr. Don Shirley, a famous African-American pianist, on a concert tour of the Deep South. Along the way the men discover that even though society tries to push them apart, they aren't that different after all.
BlacKkKlansman is a film that has received a lot of love this year, and more than rightly so. Its an incredible movie that tackles racism in the USA (check out our review here). Although it is greatly needed, its a sledge hammer of a film which presents the absolute evil of racism incarnate; the KKK.
Green Book is a more subtle yet equally confronting exploration of racism in 1960's America with a message which is just as important for today. Green Book tackles the day to day almost 'casual polite' racism of refusal of service, having to use a different restroom, and having a curfew at night. Its the culminating effect of the injustice of systematic and institutional racism that has an overwhelming effect on the viewer. Its death by a thousand cuts kinda viewing.
You get to experience life through the eyes of Dr. Don Shirley, respected as a piano player by white folks, but in a lot of cases not as a human being. You get to see everyday racism and its heartbreaking.
Equally you go on Tony's journey too from casual racist to seeing the injustice his friend must endure and using his fists at times to exact justice. We begin to see a relationship that is based on employment and is filled with mutual annoyance to a genuine, deep friendship. Its sobering yet there are many moments that really bring the belly laughs.
Tony's unsophistication yet the simple way in which he sees the world is both hilarious and endearing in equal measure. We get a glimpse into Italian - American life as well as African - American culture and it truly is a beautiful thing.
Mortensen is one of those actors with a terrific body of work but is very rarely acknowledged when it comes to winning awards come award season times. 'Always the bridesmaid' as Sir Peter O'Toole once remarked. From Eastern Promises (2008) to Captain Fantastic (2017), Mortensen has proved that there is more in his acting repertoire than Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. He has the accent, the walk, the speaking out of the side of the mouth - he has the part down. It's a beautiful, believable performance in all of its normalcy - he's not a caricature or over the top - he just is Tony Lip.
Ali also gives a terribly understated performance that is filled with the tension of a repressed individual which seems to emanate from the very core of his being. Ali gives a performance that is just extraordinary.
Sure, some of the criticism that Green Book simplifies the complex issues of racial reconciliation down to being solved by simply having a conversation is slightly granted. But in saying that Green Book is just that - its the beginning of the conversation. And its a very good place to start.
With wondrous performances from Mortensen and Ali, a terrific story filled with belly laughs and sobering moments, and a much needed message, Green Book is the first must watch movie of 2019.