This review was originally published as part of our London Film Festival coverage on 13/10/2018.
An obvious crowd pleaser and Oscar-friendly awards player, it would be easy to underestimate Green Book. And while it is certainly formulaic, to ignore or dismiss it would be to miss out on one of the warmest and most enjoyable films of the year. Not the trite, hokey “black man teaches white man to not be racist” story that it could have been, Green Book is instead a very funny and tremendously-acted tribute to a friendship that changed the perspectives and improved the lives of both men involved.
These men are genius black pianist Doctor Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and his white driver/security Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen). Donald hires Tony to escort him through the early-‘60s Deep South on a concert tour, a journey that exposes the ignorant Tony to the true depth and depravity of American racism. This is less a teaching than an eye-opening, far more believable and affecting, and Peter Farrelly’s script, written alongside Tony’s son Nick, draws in the class disparity between Donald and Tony very effectively while also being very funny.
This is to be expected from Farrelly, one half of the directing duo behind Dumb and Dumber, but Ali and Mortensen are comedic revelations. Their chemistry is fantastic and both of them get a goldmine of great lines. Mortensen, in particular, is absolutely incredible here, completely disappearing into the role and making a very, very strong play for the Lead Actor prizes come awards season. It’s the best he’s been since probably Eastern Promises, bringing Tony to nuanced, three-dimensional life.
Green Book has the confidence to tackle its issues from multiple angles, both subverting and conforming to expectations without ever leaving entertainment on the back burner. A funny, touching, and un-cynical road movie with an infectiously jubilant lead duo, it’s a total knockout.
CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini
DIRECTOR: Peter Farrelly
WRITERS: Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie
SYNOPSIS: 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.