Green Book (2018) is an American comedy-drama inspired by a true story set in the 1960s. The film is directed by Peter Farrelly and stars the critically acclaimed actor Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. Ali plays Dr. Don Shirley, a concert pianist, and Mortensen plays Frank Anthony Vallelonga aka Tony Lip, his driver and bodyguard as they travel the Deep South on a concert tour. The film is named after The Negro Motorist Green Book written by Victor Hugo Green, a mid-20th century guidebook for African-American travelers. The Green Book reviewed hotels and restaurants that catered to African-Americans visiting the Deep South during the time of the Jim Crow laws, and is a motif that runs through the film.
It’s the story of a quirky relationship between two men from dissimilar backgrounds whose uneasy working relationship evolves into genuine friendship and mutual respect in spite of the divisions of race and class set against the Deep South where Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation, and where racism against African-Americans was ingrained in the fabric of daily life.
Besides being a comedy-drama, Green Book falls within the genre of a road movie. Don and Frank leave home on a road trip altering the perspective of their everyday lives. The journey takes them (and us as the viewer) into the Deep South where segregation and racism against African-Americans was a way of life. The film explores not only the level of segregation prevalent at the time but also the division of class as seen through the unfolding relationship between Don and Frank. They are polar opposites who come from different economic stratas; Don is highly educated, accomplished, and cultured making his living from his musical talents while Frank struggles with literacy, comes from a working class Italian-American background, and uses his brawn to eke out a living. The film explores these divisions of racism and class as Frank drives Don to his gigs in the prejudicial Deep South. The setting within closed spaces such as the confines of the car, booths in diners, and within motel rooms helps to create intimacy and tension between Don and Frank. As the story evolves so do Don and Frank as they make new self-discoveries about themselves and each other. Does Frank fulfill his contractual obligations? Well, you’ve just got to see the film to find out.
It is a hugely successful film winning numerous awards and accolades and rightly so, and is definitely worth seeing. The film features stellar performances from Mortensen and Ali which carry the film. Kudos to Mortensen who captures the swagger, mannerisms and diction of a second-generation Italian-American from a working-class background who loves to eat and put away calories. Ali and Mortensen’s are marvelous to watch and their performances are nuanced, complex and multi-faceted rendering complex and sympathetic characters. The film is peppered with comedic moments that not only stitch the film into a cohesive whole but provides cathartic relief against the demeaning and openly racist attitudes experienced by Dr. Shirley which runs through the film creating dramatic tension that moves the narrative and which are interspersed with beautiful landscape images of the countryside in the Deep South. The film is beautifully shot and crafted. There are many powerful scenes in the film and one of the most powerful is where Tony Lip stops the car on the side of the road to cool off an overheated engine and radiator. Dr. Shirley gets out of the car to stretch his legs. On the other side of the two lane road behind a wooden fence, African-Americans, men and women, young and old, till the land with farm implements. Some stop working and glance over at Dr. Shirley who does the same. Tony Lip opens the door for Dr. Shirley to get in and closes it before driving on. The scene highlights much in the way of sub-text visually showing not much has changed for many African-Americans in the Deep South since the days of slavery.
Green Book is a well-crafted film with lots of twists and turns taking us into America’s recent past. The film fits many genres. It is more than a comedy-drama, or a road movie but is essentially in its core, a bro-mance. It is an intimate portrait of two men who transcend divisions of class and race to form a lasting bond and friendship. I enjoyed the film for its uplifting and positive story line and for its stellar performances. There is much to recommend it. Do see it for you won’t be disappointed.
Universal Pictures releases Green Book on on 4K ULTRA HD, BLU-RAY™ and DVD on March 12, 2019
[Review by Stefan Chiarantano]