Review – Green Book

There’s a saying about judging a book by its cover. In the case of a film, a large amount of judging a trailer can easily make or break a film. A trailer can be far greater than the film and in turn disappoint. It can also do the opposite. In the case of Green Book, the trailer was lacklustre. However, the film itself was one that tantalised all the emotions and leaves you wanting more.

Green Book is the wonderful true story of two very unlikely friends. The drama spiked with a great deal of comedy follows African American Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) a classical and jazz pianist who is about to tour the deep south of America in the 1960s. In a time when African Americans weren’t favoured and had very little rights in the southern states of America, Shirley knew he would need some help should he run into trouble. 

Tony Vallelonga or as most people know him by, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) is a New Yorker with a rich Italian background who is looking for work and happens to have his name given to Shirley a number of times. Despite Vallelonga and Shirley having absolutely nothing in common and Vallelonga not quite agreeing to the terms of the position Shirley is offering, the two come to an agreement embark on an adventure that will bring them closer together than they’d ever had expected.

Following “The Negro Motorist Green Book” to find Shirley suitable accommodation and eateries that welcome African American’s the two found themselves in some interesting establishments. On the flip side as Shirley performed for some of the wealthy and elite of the deep south, they would find themselves being forced into situations contradictory of Shirley’s class and stature.

This film is without a doubt a commentary on the civil unrest of the 1960s in the USA. However, it is so cleverly written with a hint of comedy that brings you that much closer to the story. There are no traditional jokes where they are set up and delivered in order to entice a laugh. It comes from natural conversation and well-developed characters that encourages the actors to deliver a more natural comedy. 

It’s fair to say this might not have been possible without the direction of Peter Farrelly. A name synonymous with comedy. There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber, Shallow Hal and Me Myself and Irene, just to name a few. But what separates this from Farrelly’s traditional comedy films is its true nature. It’s an honest comedy that comes out of life. To be fair, you couldn’t come up with the concept if it weren’t real.

Farrelly managed to cast the film with perfection. Leading is Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen is without a doubt one of the most talented character actors in the industry. With the likes of Captain Fantastic as the nature-loving Father and The Lord of The Rings as Aragorn. Playing Tony Lip, a New York Italian was just a bit of fun for him.

Mortensen managed to nail this interesting balance between being the hard guy, but also being one big kid despite having a number of his own. His understanding of the world was simple and when he thought something wasn’t right, he took matters into his own hands. It’s a relatable character, it’s someone you know. But what Mortensen does with Tony Lip is make this over the top American Italian seem normal.

Next to Mortensen is Mahershala Ali (True Detective, Moonlight, House of Cards) as Dr Don Shirley. Ali brings an entirely different performance than Mortensen. Ali is withheld, calculated and always biting his tongue so as not to cause any issues. Where Mortensen is over the top Ali is the exact opposite. The most astonishing part is how Ali plays a phenomenal pianist yet doesn’t play any of the actual music in the film. What Ali managed to do and with amazing perfection was act the art of playing the piano without actually playing it. With things like his posture and the way he holds himself to where his hands would actually be if it were him playing. Sometimes you have to know your limitations when pretending to be an amazing pianist.

For a film about music, there actually isn’t entirely a great deal of music. This adds to the beauty and mystique of the pieces when it is finally played. There is one performance at the end of the film that will make you wish you were there at the time. The score of the film is almost just as perfect adding this unknown character yet gave all the emotion to the otherwise stellar performances. 

Overall Green Book is one of those films that goes under the radar. The trailer didn’t really show what it’s about and it’s probably not something most people would go out of their way to watch. But what you have in the end is this hilarious, beautiful, mortifying yet charming film that reminds you there’s still good in the world even through all the hate. 

Review by Jay Cook

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