Green Book

Roads 1962

         
 

26 November 2018| No Comments on Green Book     by Sean Chavel

 

 

A race relations picture set in 1962 that’s also a road movie. Green Book crosscuts two formulas but it’s not a forced crosscut. It’s based on a friendship that really happened, one between bouncer and father Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and black musician Doc Shirley (Mahershala Ali). Doc needs a driver and butler to do a two month road tour through the holidays, and Tony needs temp work after his bouncer gig is on hiatus when the famous nightclub Copacabana is to undergo renovations for a few months. They hit the road which encompasses stops in several states, and hit certain crisis moments and run-ins with Civil Rights and Jim Crow era prejudice.

I do not believe the material is softened for mainstream digestion, and that what happens is told just the way it did happened. Tony is a big appetite, loutish, blustery driver who makes a hell of a good bodyguard as a bonus. It was an unsaid reason why Doc hires him over the white-haired others. Tony gets offers to be a heavy for the mob, but he has a wife and kids he adores. He’s a barroom brawl threat, but he’s a nice guy too but capable of using street smarts over brawn. In one scene, Doc has been detained by police and Tony is able to bribe the cops to let him go even though they first proclaim they don’t take bribes.

Doc is a man defined by his gentlemanly poise and politeness. It’s quite a masquerade to have to play to every day, but the enlightenment of “Green Book” is that for a black man to be taken seriously in the 1960’s he had to put on a refined shell. Despite the tall dignity of Doc, there are some whites in the deep south that harass Doc (so thankfully, a guy like Tony is there to protect). Doc has quite the clout. He calls up Bobby Kennedy for a favor at one point when the two of them are in a rut.

Yes, these two are pointed opposites, divided by race, and they cultivate together in time once they start busting each other’s chops. Tony even opens up Doc to black man’s rock n’ roll, which Doc is at first too snooty about. That this happens in such an entertaining, and psychologically compelling manner, is due to two fantastic performances by Mortensen and Ali. From the trailers, Mortensen looked like a caricature but entertaining Italian half-hunk half-oaf who is short a few marbles. However, Mortensen takes an almost certain caricature and never cracks, bringing credible life to a Bronx guy. Ali, on the other hand, has a polished veneer who only gradually shows cracks – in a way that is necessary by the script so we can understand him – and he is every bit the actor who impressed so remarkably in “Moonlight.”

These are the kind of performances you can return to in repeat viewings. “Green Book” would probably do stellar box office if it had two Academy Award nominated performances in Mortensen and Ali. But these are also performances by Mortensen and Ali that don’t shout out loud and have Oscar-y clip moments. They are more lived-in, and it’s probably going to unfairly undervalue what they do here.

The directing is also likely to be undervalued, because it has the name Peter Farrelly attached and he’s famous from co-directing lowbrow smash hits like “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary.” Frankly, his directing was undervalued with those pictures. There’s an air and atmosphere, and asides with secondary characters that happens in his comedies, particularly “Stuck on You” was one. And that kind of well-paced and breathing directing compliments a drama like “Green Book,” too. It doesn’t have the lyricism and thrust of “Rain Man,” which to me is the best road movie that’s ever been made (I imagine some readers will snicker as I state that, I’m not afraid to declare it). But “Green Book” has dollops of irresistible poignant scenes.

There are a couple moments where the movie is a little too skittish. Doc was a married man but there is a reveal that, not only has he faced hardship being black but he’s also a homosexual, but that fact is briefly only touched upon. To cover it up, the movie says little more about it and Doc gets huffy with Tony because he’s trying to hide his shame, I believe. There are some road moments where onlookers see it odd (or offensive) that a white man is driving a black man who takes coach in the backseat.

It could have taken a more severe look at such moments. “Green Book” is so unabashedly enjoyable and enlightening the way it is though I don’t see how you can say no to it.

130 Minutes. Rated PG-13.

RACE RELATIONS DRAMA / THINKING TEENS / PROVOCATIVE MOOD

Film Cousins: “Rain Man” (1988); “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989); “Corrina, Corrina” (1994); “Moonlight” (2016).

 

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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