Green Book: review

Sweet. Affirming. Heart-warming, even. Green Book is the story of a road trip, but a road trip with a difference. Because Green Book is based on real life events.

It is the tale of how, in 1962, acclaimed pianist and friend of the Kennedy's, Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) decides to embark on a tour of the United States. No problem. Except this is 1962. Across large parts of the South, racial segregation and deep-seated anti-black prejudice is still in full swing. Selma, the voting rights marches and Martin Luther King are still some way in the future.

And Shirley intends to head south.

So he hires driver-cum-troubleshooter Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and they are off. The film's focus now alternates between the increasingly hostile, ridiculous, racist attitudes of the authorities as they head for the Deep South, and the slowly emerging mutual respect between Dr Don and Tony.

It exposes, with bitter irony, the inconsistencies, the hypocrisies of a privileged white elite that will happily sit and listen to Shirley playing a public concert hall, but will not allow him to share a loo or eat in a restaurant with them.

At the same time, it addresses the visceral racism of Tony, a no-nonsense worldly-wise bouncer from an Italian-American family living in the Bronx. There are cringe moments, when Tony descends unwittingly into old attitudes. This, though, is artfully juxtaposed with Dr Don's own insecurities. For he is a famous black man atop a society that is institutionally programmed not to acknowledge black success.

An exile twice over: too good, too high and mighty to be accepted by his own black community; and not good enough for the white one.

This film draws its strength from the fact that neither man is perfect: each learns from the other.

Rounding off Tony's rough edges, well aware that the man she has married is less than perfect, but loving him all the same is wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini).

Green Book tops off a month of wonderful films, including The Favourite, Stan and Ollie and Mary Poppins Returns. Mere coincidence that this is award season and therefore the ideal time to release a movie for any director looking to bag a golden statue or two.

Praise, though, where praise is due. This is a light-hearted film putting the serious issue of endemic racism into the spotlight, entertaining while never pulling its punches. It also has a fine score, taken directly from the work of real-life Dr Don – although despite appearances the actual piano-playing is provided not by Mahershala but by musician and composer Kris Bowers. Though it is hard to tell.

A film I enjoyed very much.

Four stars.


Green Book Trailer Image