It’s America in 1962 and Brooklyn born tough guy Tony “Lip” Vallelonga reluctantly takes the job of driving Dr Don Shirley, a black concert pianist, to a series of his shows throughout America’s Deep South. Racism is rife and the two men from very different backgrounds learn about each other and indeed loyalty, love and friendship as their road-trip progresses.
Best known for his comedies with brother Bobby, Director Peter Farrelly paints a no holds barred picture of racial segregation and hypocrisy, within the confines of a 12A certificate. Dr Shirley wows the crowds with his genius only to be told he’s not welcome to eat in the same restaurant as them, sleep in the same hotel (there’s a guide on which hotels black people can or can’t use called the Green Book) or even use the same bathroom, rather a wooden shack outside.
Viggo Mortensen is sensational as a chain-smoking, perpetually eating bruiser with a heart of gold as his unrefined oafishness clashes beautifully with Shirley’s style and debonair demeanour. Gone is the calm reflective man that so coolly decapitated orcs all those years ago and in his place is a beer-bellied, larger than life Italian-American that thinks nothing of scoffing 26 hot-dogs to win a bet.
Mahershala Ali, as Shirley, is class personified as he navigates his way through a world where people will shake his hand so long as they can wash it immediately after. Showing his courage and strength by deliberately touring this particular area of America to highlight racial inequality, as if his life wasn’t difficult enough his experiences are also complicated by the fact that he’s gay.
The chemistry between the two men is a joy to watch as they share new experiences, whether it’s eating some KFC or simply writing a letter home. Watching them bond over the realisation that maybe they aren’t that different after all is both poignant and up-lifting.
It could be argued that the racism and prejudice depicted in Green Book is tamer than in reality, however it’s still an uncomfortable watch and should be applauded for making it accessible to a younger audience.
With a slick script, toe-tapping score played out with style and two outstanding performances at its heart, Green Book’s message is a simple one and, sadly, as relevant today as it’s ever been.
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