One is a cultured, highly educated man of the world who speaks several languages, the other, a bawdy, rough and ready New Yorker who puts his young family first. Our review highlights the clever role reversal of the two leads in the Oscar-nominated, true story of Green Book.
Green Book movie takes its title from The Negro Motorist Green Book, an annual travel guide listing businesses and establishments serving Black customers who were openly discriminated against across America, which was published between 1936 and 1966. That’s right, 1966!
The book is central in the narrative of a road trip from New York into the deep south undertaken by Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), and his newly-hired chauffeur Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen). Shirley, an affluent yet world-weary piano virtuoso who to all intents and purposes should fit right at home in the company of the rich and wealthy audiences he plays for in sell out concerts across the country. Only one thing, it’s the 1960s and his white audiences can’t see past the colour of his skin and even he doesn’t get a pass when it comes to enduring the racial inequalities and indignities of the era.
What turns the interesting, albeit typical story into a must-watch is the increasingly nuanced relationship he develops with his hired driver, played by Viggo Mortenson. Viggo played the role of the brash Italian/Yankee bouncer authentically and while initially he barely attempted to conceal his racial prejudices, the emotional ups and downs they shared mirrored the twists and turns of the actual journey they embarked on.
As usual, Mahershala is a treat to watch. His dignity and poise as an actor exudes the style and grace of a young Sidney Poitier, the original template for the suave, principled dark skinned brother.
While the storyline sticks true to the racial injustices and prejudices of the time, relief comes in the lighthearted humour that threads throughout the film which results in many laugh out loud moments. When you learn that the film is based on the real-life friendship of Dr Don Shirley and Tony Lip, you’ll leave the cinema with a warm fuzzy feeling in your chest.
Green Book is released in the UK on 30 January 2019.