By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Green Book is a wonderful rendition of the Hollywood buddy comedy. Although it knows exactly where this trip is heading, Mortensen and Ali provide enough food for thought… and literal food, to bring something refreshing and more nuanced look at the race war of the ’60s.
Directed by Peter Farrelly and based on a true story in the life of late actor Tony Lip (The Sopranos) and written by his son Nick, Green Book sees New York bouncer and ruffian Lip (Viggo Mortensen) take on some extra work by driving and escorting concert pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a tour of the deep south in the 1960s.
As expected, the film follows the duo from one establishment to the next using the real-life ‘Green Book’, an international travel guide for negro motorists – where to stay and where not to stay.
There have been a few nasty articles in the media regarding this Oscar nominated film as a vehicle for the ‘white saviour’ film in which ‘white man helps black man’, and I couldn’t disagree more.
The film begins as a funny and feel good bromance where both characters are reluctant to get to know each other, but do eventually bond over a shared hatred of the intolerant nobodies populating the south, and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The beautiful thing about Green Book is the way in which director Farrelly has managed to effortlessly show layered characters who both struggle from being boxed into one particular community. This film is as much about the damaged but wise Shirley helping the misunderstood oaf Lip, than it is the other way around.
‘You never win with violence. You only win when you maintain your dignity’ Shirley says to Lip who proceeds to tackle every dire case of discrimination with his Italian-American temper, and who is constantly reduced to a stereotype of low-class New Yorker.
Shirley, despite appearing to be a well-adjusted and well-mannered gentleman of Carnegie Hall, not to mention a musical genius, suffers from an unknown but undoubtedly rough past that forces him to down a bottle of Cutty Sark night after night.
It’s there that this road movie takes a more serious turn and gives a much-needed window into not just the segregation between black and white, but the segregation that also exists between black and black. Onlookers see Shirley as a high-class and pretentious joke, and even a betrayal to his own people. Moonlight Oscar winner Ali is phenomenal in the role, right down to Shirley’s unusually high-pitched voice.
I also doubt that you’ve ever seen a Viggo Mortensen (who’s never really been bad in anything) like this before. The actor is a completely different person with the greasy slick hair, an intrusive beer belly, and a selection of fashionable polo shirts. There’s no denying that the actor can nail a good accent as well. Impeccable work that like his co-star is indeed Oscar-worthy, but I think we can all agree that Rami Malek’s Freddy Mercury already has his name on it.
Green Book is nominated for a total of 5 Oscars including Best Actor for Viggo Mortensen, Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Picture.
It’s a feel good outing with flawless performances and doesn’t shy away from addressing real issues, plus the soundtrack is packed to the brim with gems from the ’50s and ’60s. It’s also sure to leave you with a craving for fried chicken.
See it today in select Czech cinemas.