Peter Farrelly directs Green Book, set in the early 60s as an Italian American bouncer is hired to become a driver and security for a famous African America pianist as he tours through the southern USA, the film stars Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali and Linda Cardellini.
Green Book as you know just controversially won the best picture Oscar, a decision that I’m sure will be hotly debated now until the end of time but that aside, I have my own thoughts on the film outside of the controversy surrounding it. Being biography about an interesting individual that maybe not many people know about Dr Don Shirley, I think the film does tell an intriguing story, while also sort of shedding light on the ‘Green Book’, a relic of the pre-Civil Rights era that was intended to be a guide to black people traveling in the south.
The core of the story is the developing and unlikely relationship between white Italian American Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and the Jamaican American Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) however and the story plays out as you expect, with the two being unfamiliar and distant initially but growing to enjoy each others company. This story set up plays out in just about every buddy cop film ever with two initially mismatched people growing closer but things are different with Green Book with the story being based in reality with the backdrop of Jim Crow era laws and open, frankly shocking racism that affected so many Afro-Carribean Americans in Americas’ past.
The story is simple enough to follow and the two main performances are pretty good, Viggo Mortensen is an entirely believable knuckleheaded Italian American bouncer trying to get on by, while Mahershala Ali plays the polar opposite in terms of his Don Shirleys character, prim, polite and very well mannered. The two play off each other quite well and their relationship is believable, as they both go through rather nasty situations encountering cops and establishments with racist discrimination being front and centre.
I still feel the main let down of the film is that it still only feels very skin deep, we all know racism and segregation in America specifically back in the 60s was a lot worse and seeing it portrayed in the film is a bit harrowing but I don’t get the feeling that the story really delves into it at all. And maybe this was from me wanting too much from the plot but simply depicting racism with no real recourse doesn’t quite make a compelling watch, even if a Jamaican man was getting escorted by a white man in the 60s, which would have been incredibly strange to people at the time.
Green Book portrays a real story, admittedly with some creative license to make events maybe a bit more interesting or dramatic but it isn’t quite a heavy hitting drama, not touching too much on the fact that Don Shirley was gay or on the juxtaposition of a black man having a white driver. Films like this are often criticized for sweeping racism under the rug and not confronting the issue at hand, painting a singularly positive story while the main zeitgeist at the time period was anything but.
Though in saying this, the film is perfectly competent, though maybe relying too much on its own dramatization. And no, the film wasn’t setting out to say racism was solved by Tony and Dons’ friendship or that things for black people in the 60s were a bit rough and inconvenient but not too bad, but regardless, I still the film could have delved into its own subject material a bit more.
. Strong performances from Mortsensen and Ali
. Plot points feel a bit neutered and watered down
. Not quite hard hitting enough