Summary: A working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.
This will be a short review.
I know there was a lot of controversy surrounding this film and I’m not going to speak to that, other than things I noticed about the film in general, but I will also not talk about historical inaccuracies because I don’t know other than what I have read due to the drama surrounding this.
Two Leads. There are characters we meet throughout the movie, including Linda Cardelini who plays Tony’s wife but they’re minor characters, so I thought it was best to just focus on the two leads. I don’t agree with Mahershala Ali being nominated for the Supporting Role because his role was just as large, is it because Tony’s son helped write the script?? lol I’m just saying.
Viggo Mortensen as Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga. Tony is a bouncer at the Copacabana nightclub, it gets closed for renovations, so he gets invited to interview for a driver position for an eight-week concert tour. He’s against it at first because when he hears all that Don needs from him, he’s like nah. But eventually, he ends up doing it. Tony is unpolished and a little rough around the edges, which is the exact opposite of Don. So, they do clash at times because of that. Tony is a pleasant guy and he often means well. Throughout the movie, we have moments where Tony and Don must lean on each other for various reasons, such as the letters and then the times where Tony must go off and save Don… and those moments are coupled with great acting from Viggo Mortensen. The man is a chameleon and he portray the New Jersey Italian great lol at least from my limited knowledge from media lol.
Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley. He is an eccentric pianist who is looking for a driver for his eight-week concert tour through the Midwest and Deep South. He hires Tony because of his references and after speaking with his wife. Don is very straight laced and very particular. When he first gets into the car, his butler puts a blanket over his legs lol, he doesn’t like littering, he’s very commanding which Ali acts all of Don’s quirks wonderfully. I’ve seen him play many roles and this is the first time I’ve see him really play a straight-laced person and boy he gets me every time. He’s so charismatic with such a commanding presence that any time he speaks, you listen to him. Don obviously must go through a lot in this movie being that it’s set in the 60’s, which is to be expected. Sometimes he handles it well and sometimes he doesn’t. Mahershala Ali is great!
The Beautiful Music! I love classical music and I do enjoy Jazz and Don gets to perform both of those in different parts of the movie and it’s amazing and beautiful. It takes a back seat sometimes compared to the racism stuff and the other dramatic moments, but this movie does have those moments where it’s like “Dang, is Mahershala really playing?” lol. But I have to say the choices of background music, whether the characters are listening to it in the car, or it’s musical score, or whatever Don is playing, it really sets a nice atmosphere.
The Friendship Between Don and Tony. As I said in the character section both actors are SO GOOD. If you don’t want to see this movie for anything else, the chemistry and friendship between these two is so good. There are some weird moments, like when Tony is basically telling Don “how to be black” and it can get a little weird and awkward, but a lot of their other interactions are charming and emotional. Whenever Don is helping Tony write letters to his wife, those are gold. They have a great scene outside, I think it’s snowing, great moment. I don’t particularly care for the dialogue, but the moment is well acted.
The Green Book. This is a minor thing, but the movie is called “Green Book” but it’s such a non-thing. We see the Green Book maybe two or three times. We see it when it’s first given to Tony. We don’t really see it again until later, and then we see it one more time when Tony looks at it in the car. I think it should have been a much more involved plot point because the book is the guide for African-American travelers to find motels, restaurants, and filling stations that would serve them, but they never use it seriously! I mean come on!
White Savior. So, this is part of the controversy surrounding this movie and honestly, it really does come off that way. Who knows if that was the intention or not but it’s really kind of glaring. I thought it was odd how they went out of their way to show us Don’s house and its basically Africa in there, not to mention, his “uppity” mindset, the man has a throne in his house. Then literally every situation Don gets into, Tony must come and rescue him. This happens a lot. Then there’s all those times when Tony is teaching Don about black people, because you know, all black people love fried chicken and Little Richard. Sure, sure, you can argue that it just shows that Tony is also a bit racist but still. It’s just really weird how they go about that. Plus, there’s this other scene in a bathroom that also has a weird undertone and not because of the moment but because of it was included at all? I don’t know lol. I mean, it’s like they put Don into situations just so Tony can be the savior… I don’t know if that’s how it happened in real life, but it doesn’t sit well.
Ghosts Over the Issues. Obviously with this movie being set in the 60’s there’s a ton that’s going to happen here. My problem is that it brings up those moments but don’t quite make it in understanding them through the lens of the character it’s happening to. You can argue that as the movie is clearly about Tony, and he doesn’t understand completely so that might be the problem, but I don’t think that’s an excuse. There’s a good scene that’s wonderfully acted by Ali, but the things he’s saying is stuff we hadn’t seen. He talks about not being good enough for white people except when he’s playing for them, but he’s also not accepted by black people because he’s not like them. That would have been a great moment if we ever saw that. We maybe see that one time when he’s invited to play horse shoes and declines. That wasn’t because he “wasn’t like them” they were like “man forget you!” because he didn’t want to play! That doesn’t equate! If you’re going to have a character say something like that, then give us reasons to understand WHY HE’D SAY THAT! Not to mention, Don knows he’s in the South and that he shouldn’t go off on his own, why does he keep doing it then? He’s a smart guy. I just didn’t understand that either.
Overall, I think Green Book is a good and well-made movie. The best thing it has to offer are the performances from Mortensen and Ali. They are fantastic and they play to each other’s strengths very well. Their characters are very different which allows for lots of time of learning and understanding each other and growing to trust and care for the other. All that stuff is great and probably what you should watch the movie for. The music included is beautiful, Don mostly plays a lot of Jazz and he explains why, but we also get some classical and some other types of music. It’s amazing, music feeds the soul. There are charming moments between the two for their friendship as well. Now, obviously there is of course the other stuff, like how the movie is named after something that should have been more integral than it was in the film and that’s lame. Or how it has lots of “white savior” vibes, especially in places where the scripts make Don go off and do stupid things when he is clearly an intelligent man. It doesn’t make sense or add up and I did not like that. I won’t go into it further but it’s a movie I’d recommend watching if you’re a fan of either Viggo Mortensen or Mahershala Ali, which I am of both actors, so take that for what it’s worth.
Rating: 3.69 out of 5 stars.
Have you seen Green Book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!
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