Green Book

 

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A film proving that popular cinema can reflect tellingly on social issues while retaining wide appeal.

 
Green Book

Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen

 

Green Book is a film founded on a real-life friendship but, even so, it is a work that pleasingly brings many other movies to mind. The two central characters meet for the first time when one of them, the pianist Dr Don Shirley, is about to undertake a tour in the American South together with his fellow musicians who make up the Don Shirley Trio. In seeking somebody to be his driver, he picks a man from the Bronx who has recently been employed as a bouncer, Tony Vallelonga. In effect this is an inversion of the situation in 1980's Driving Miss Daisy since here it is the hirer who is black (Don Shirley being played by Mahershala Ali from Moonlight) and the employee (Viggo Mortensen) who is white. But both films show people from different backgrounds responding to one another and eventually bonding - as, indeed, was also the case in the French comedy Untouchable recently remade as The Upside.

 

Green Book starts out in New York City in 1962 and, although it is directed by Peter Farrelly a filmmaker noted for broad and often outrageous modern comedies, the tone of this film breaks away from current trends altogether emerging as a piece akin to the sort of movie that might have been made in the very decade in which it is set. Consequently, it provides mainstream entertainment of a kind that will offer nostalgic appeal for older viewers. But, even if the personal story it tells is upfront, the very fact of showing the characters in this setting means that the issue of segregation as enforced by the race laws of the time is a constant key factor. It emerges as the significant background against which the tale unfolds as both men learn from each other and develop a bond that would last a lifetime. That gives the film its popular appeal much aided by a screenplay that is only occasionally oversimplified and to first class performances from both lead actors, performances that gain by their resolute refusal to play to the sentimental possibilities of the tale.

 

Nevertheless, while opting to please in this way, the film never lets one forget that the heart of Green Book lies in its invitation to remember the injustices faced by black people in America in the 1960s and to bear that in mind in opposing racism today. Indeed, the film's very title points to racial concerns since the Negro Motorist Green Book first published in the 1930s was a guide advising coloured people regarding those places in which they would be allowed to stay when travelling. The film makes its points without becoming as dramatic as In the Heat of the Night (1967) which can be seen as another precursor. But, arguably, being a work with a social conscience aimed at attracting a mass popular audience, the film to which it is most akin is another piece dating from 1967, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Admittedly, it feels a bit overstretched at 130 minutes, but this is quality work all round, not just the fine performances (which extend to that by Linda Cardellini who makes a real impact in the relatively small role of Tony Vallelonga's wife) but also the production values and the music to be enjoyed on the soundtrack.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Dimiter D. Marinov, Mike Hatton, Joe Cortese, Sebastian Maniscalco, Quinn Duffy, Seth Hurwitz, Hudson Galloway, Gavin Lyle Foley, Rudy Vallelonga.

 

Dir Peter Farrelly, Pro Brian Hayes Currie, Jim Burke, Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga and Charles B. Wessler, Screenplay Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie and Peter Farrelly, Ph Sean Porter, Pro Des Tim Galvin, Ed Patrick J. Don Vito, Music Kris Bowers, Costumes Betsy Heimann.

 

Participant Media/DreamWorks/Amblin Pictures/Innisfree Pictures/Wessler Entertainment-Entertainment One.
130 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 1 February 2019. Cert. 12A.