Green Book is a 2018 comedy-drama film directed by Peter Farrelly and starring Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic, The Lord of the Rings) and Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, Marvel’s Luke Cage). The story is based on true events and takes its name from a mid-20th century guidebook for African-American travelers.
A working-class Italian-American bouncer (Mortensen) becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist (Ali) on a tour of venues through the 1960’s American South.
Even whilst dealing with the inevitably heavy racism, the film conforms to the structure of a buddy-comedy road-trip movie, where two characters from two very different walks of life are forced together and become friends over hardships.
For this to be successful, the whole movie hangs on the performances of the two lead actors and I’m happy to say that they pull it off gangbusters.
Viggo Mortensen physically transformed himself for this role, gaining a large amount of weight to brings an added layer of authenticity to his performance. Tony Lip is unrefined, violent, foul-mouthed and “the world’s great bullshitter” but Mortensen balances that with scenes of such believable kindness, friendship and sincerity. He’s not just playing a character, he is crafting a three-dimensional flawed human being.
Mahershala Ali also succeeds at disappearing into his character, but not by altering his body. Ali adopts the mannerisms, postures and ambiance of Don Shirley so that in every one of his scenes, he looks like a regal classically-trained pianist. The musical performances are also breath-taking with Ali and his piano double being such a delight to watch on screen.
The reward of crafting such well-defined characters is creating situations which the audiences knows will upset their sensibilities. Time and time again, the pair are thrust into an encounter that one character is right at home in whilst the other squirms with discomfort. With giving any spoilers away, my personal favourite examples of this are a scene that involves Kentucky Fried Chicken (in Kentucky, no less) and one that involves a jazz band.
The friendship between Mortensen and Ali is so believable that it’s almost tangible and yet their constant conflict remains so understandable. And the conflict never overpowers the rest of the film because both actors have such a firm grasp on the material that they know exactly how to bring the comedy out of the script.
And this is a very funny movie. Dark, moody and downright sad at times, but Green Book has a wonderful sense of humour and I was frequently laughing out loud. The emotional journey is so affecting that I went from being angered and frustrated by the indignation being suffered by the character to fits of laughter at just watching a character eat a pizza.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Green Book gains a lot of awards buzz and more than a few nominations during next year’s awards season.
Green Book deftly handles its serious subject matter whilst injecting the perfect amount of humour and heart. Mortensen and Ali have such a firm grasp on their characters that they smoothly sink into the roles and watching their developing relationship is pure cinematic joy.
Green Book hits UK cinemas on Feburary 1st 2019.
|Green Book||Cup Rating: 90%|