Reviewed here by Ben Cherry, Green Book is showing in our cinema until Thursday 28 February. Thursday’s performance is sold out but there are still a few tickets remaining for tonight’s screening (Tuesday 26).
The Oscar season is officially over. The prestigious award show aired last night and Green Book picked up the coveted award for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali (who could have really been Best Actor) and Best Original Screenplay. Like the other Oscar nominees, it is a film that has been picked apart and analysed more than any normal film would. General consensus on social media and especially ‘Twitter’ is that Green Book is a ‘bad film’ and it doesn’t deserve the nominations and awards that it has received. After seeing it over the weekend I was pleasantly surprised by how much I thoroughly enjoyed it and was pleased with the Oscar turnout, especially Mahershala Ali’s win who is one of the best actors working today.
Green Book tells the true story of Tony Lip, a bouncer at a club in New York City, who has to find work after the club closes temporarily. He interviews for a job driving for Doctor Don Shirley, a black pianist who is embarking on an eight week tour that takes him through the ‘Deep-South.’ The issue for Tony Lip is that he has absolutely no respect for African-Americans and in one early shocking scene, he throws away two drinking glasses, just because two black construction workers drink from them. He is forced to take the job; however, to support his family and the journey begins across the USA. Tony is given some literature called the ‘Green Book’ which helps African-Americans navigate the prejudices of travelling the USA during the 1960s, to help him relate to his new employer.
Green Book is a classic American road-trip tale and whilst the story isn’t wholly original, the interplay between the two central characters is exceptional. Both Viggo Mortenson (Tony Lip) and Mahershala Ali (Don Shirley) were nominated for Oscars for their performances and it is easy to see why. Viggo Mortensen is completely unrecognisable, with his pasta belly and thick Italian-American accent. As someone who grew up, seeing him in action as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he couldn’t have been playing someone any further away from that iconic role. He is brash, opinionated and obnoxious, but apart from that despicable early scene, absolutely hilarious. As the journey continues with Don Shirley and he realises how ludicrous the segregation laws are in the South, he becomes much more likeable and the ever-changing relationship with Shirley elevates the film to more than just Oscar-bait.
Mahershala Ali plays Don Shirley and is on a bit of a hot streak at the moment. An actor on the rise since he was in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, he hit the big time, winning the Oscar for 2016’s Moonlight and has been involved in plenty of interesting projects ever since. He is currently in the new series of True Detective, doing some exceptional work and the same can be said for Green Book. He has continued this hot streak by winning his second Oscar in two years.
His character is the polar opposite to Tony. He is sophisticated, professional and always maintains his dignity even when he is treated appallingly throughout his tour. Ali often plays masculine tough guys, but here he plays Shirley as authoritative and confident on the outside, but also as someone who is struggling internally with what he has to contend with, with being a black man in the early 1960s. He is someone who is treated with the utmost respect on stage, but treated no better than an animal. It is a complex and difficult role, which Ali seems to play effortlessly.
The film is directed by Peter Farrelly, one half of the Farrelly brothers who were famous for directing gross-out comedies such as Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something about Mary. Whilst this film is a far-cry from those nineties classics (or clunkers depending on your taste in comedy), the film is enormously funny. I was quite surprised as to how consistently amusing the film is and the audience in the screening I was in were in constant hysterics and this is primarily due to the chemistry and crackling duo performances from Mortensen and Ali.
Green Book has plenty of serious issues and themes that it explores and it could have easily been a stuffy historical film that fails to connect with an audience. Instead it is a warm, funny and incredibly likeable film with a simplistic but heartfelt message that feels even more relevant during this current divided climate of Brexit and Trump. There are many highlights throughout the film and there is an excellent running joke about Lip’s letters to his wife, but the film is elevated thanks to Mahersala Ali and Viggo Mortensen whose relationship in the film gives the story its drive and purpose.