Coming to cinemas this week is Green Book, a film based on the friendship of Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga. The film follows Tony (Viggo Mortensen) as he takes a job to chauffeur Doctor Don Shirley (Marshela Ali) across the deep South of America.
Along the way, the two individuals from two very different worlds find common ground and build a compelling relationship.
Green Book is an impressive film. It’s funny because I have found that the main reason a lot of the films I have reviewed recently have been so good is due to their double acts. There was Bumblebee with Steinfeld and Bee, Venom with Hardy and Venom and now there is Green Book. Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen are cinematic gold together.
Their rapport is magnetic and it all comes from pitch-perfect performances from both actors. Mortensen is almost cartoonish in his portrayal of Tony Lip but his everyman charm wins you over to his way of thinking and lets you see past some of the cartoonish elements of his character.
Ali is a unique force with his portrayal of Doctor Don Shirley. Even the way he enters the film has a certain flamboyant charm that has to be seen to be believed. From the way, he talks to the way he walks you are drawn to him. Doctor Don Shirley is a man not fully appreciated in his time and it’s a shame because the way the world is now he may have had a more comfortable life now.
Green Book is also funny. The relationship has a surprisingly hilarious component to it and this adds a wonderful human element to the film.
These characters feel like real people because the dialogue allows for some genuine and compelling back and forths between the two. There is one scene where Don treats Tony like a petulent child and it’s engrossing just watching the two bicker.
This human element is bolstered by the troubling racism in the film. These scenes are fascinating and disturbing in equal measures. The way the white audiences embrace Don is macabre in a sense as not two moments later they are stopping him from using the same bathroom as them. He is supposedly their equal when they applaud him for his clear talent but the moment he steps off that stage he’s not one of them. Almost like some kind of circus animal that is loved but then has to go back into its cage.
It’s haunting, it’s depressing and it’s all too real.
The music of Green Book is also an important factor as Don Shirley was an incredible pianist. I would even go as far as saying that his talent as a musician helped some people see past his colour to the man he is. I’m not sure if Ali actually learned to play the piano or there is some digital wizardry but it’s impressive. The first time you see Don perform you are immediately enthralled.
He has one particular piece he plays several times throughout the course of the film and I was engaged every time it happened.
Of all these positive elements Green Book is still a by the numbers biopic. There is nothing innovative about the storytelling. The film follows the usual beats. A person of colour who has found themselves in a higher station due to their talent has no place in either world.
They are appreciated enough by white people that their own colour does not treat them as one of their own. Unfortunately the white element still have that discrimination within them so they never fully appreciate this person either.
Is this a good story? Yes. Is it a compelling story? Yes. It’s unfortunately a story that we’ve seen before. Darren Mooney from the m0vie blog best described it as a reverse Driving Miss Daisy. It’s a shame that at times it’s quite conventional but when the cast are working their asses off you give it the benefit of the doubt.
Green Book is a brilliant film with a stellar cast. The relationship between these two men is moving and I’d recommend this film to anyone out there looking for something that isn’t part of a mass franchise. It’s quiet, it’s potent, and it’s unassumingly charming.