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). That the friendship happened through a white man’s POV is a convenience, for sure, but it is this Italian family’s story.

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. Doc puts on an armor of majesty and excellence, and earns some leeway with the white establishment — but not all — and became a man that could travel through the South in ways other black men couldn’t.

Tony is oblivious and hasn’t thought about the black life experience. Tony is a big appetite, loutish, blustery driver who makes a hell of a good bodyguard. He’s a barroom brawl threat, but he’s a nice guy too but capable of using street smarts over brawn, in a way that gets him to coax racist white police officers. 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. They are charmed by Tony’s unpretentious, working class way with words. Doc has quite the clout, himself. He calls up Bobby Kennedy for a favor at one point when the two of them are in a rut.

Doc is a man defined by his gentlemanly poise and politeness, his speech is polished like silver. It’s quite a masquerade to have to play “majestic” and “untouchable” 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 armor.

Yes, Tony and Doc are pointed opposites, divided by race, with one having strength over the other in certain situations. 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. It is saccharine but this kind of buddy movie, however removed from most experience, is entertaining, and does have some psychologically layers about cultural identity, and is bolstered by 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.” Yes, that majestic man is just a man as it turns out. He has quite a few vulnerabilities. It’s not fair that he lived in a time when you had to hide yourself. Doc is a man who comes on like a king, but is just a man who to hide his real self.

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. Yet “Green Book” is so unabashedly enjoyable and enlightening the way it is though I don’t see how you can say no to it. As long as you know it’s not the beginning and end-all when it comes to racial structures in twentieth century America.

130 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


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, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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