Going into the screening of “Green Book,” I was a bit apprehensive because of all of the hype I had heard within the critic community. Being the first dramatic film directed by either of the Farrelly brothers (which Peter even co-wrote) and starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, I was intrigued by its story and star power, but I didn’t want to set the bar higher than necessary, especially given what appeared to be awards bait for all involved. What I found was a movie that deserved all of the accolades and hype that came with it and so much more.
Ali plays Dr. Don Shirley, a virtuoso pianist in the 1960s who is all the rage in New York City. During the holiday season, he makes a bold decision to take a two-month tour of the deep south by car and hires recently unemployed bouncer Tony Lip (Mortensen) to be his driver for the trip, accompanied by the “Green Book,” which is a guide to traveling African-Americans as to what hotels and restaurants are friendly to them. As can be imagined, there is a fair amount of risk here given that Shirley is African-American himself and has stops in the most racially divided cities in the country as the country itself is struggling with the issue of civil rights. The road is not easy, but the friendship that is formed between the two that serve as an example even today.
There are no words as to how great this film is. In a time where we seem to be becoming more divided as a people than we have been in a long time, a story like this reminds me of how important it is to start reversing that process and close the gaps, no matter what they may be. And if there were a major film award for Best Duo in a Film, this would be at the top of the list with Mortensen and Ali. With Viggo not doing the amount of projects he did a little over a decade ago, I had forgotten how truly great he is, and it is on full display here. There are even some of Lip’s (his actual last name is Vallelonga) actual family members in the film, which I think helped the authenticity that much more. There has to be special notice given to Linda Cardellini as Lip’s wife, whose strength and determination to keep both her immediate and extended family afloat during Lip’s absence is paramount to this story. (Also take note of the subplot as Shirley works with Lip on the letters he writes to his wife, which is nothing short of heartwarming and wonderful.)
There is simply nothing wrong with this film. It is not perfect, but “Green Book” is one that must be respected by people of all paths. To see this film is to experience not only the presentation Farrelly puts forth but to immerse oneself in the time and circumstance that these men are in, which is really easy to do with this great script and the actors that bring it to life.