Director: Peter Farrelly
Talent: Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen
Release: 30 January
The Green Book is not only the title, but also an integral item in Peter Farrelly’s film. The Negro Motorist Green Book was the Lonely Planet for African-American’s travelling through America’s Jim Crow South. It’s with this booklet in hand and a trunk full of leather cases that Italian-American tough-guy Tony Lip acts as chauffeur and bodyguard for jazz piano virtuoso Don Shirley on his latest tour.
Played by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali respectively, the pair couldn’t be more different. The pianist is refined and mollycoddled, highly educated and perceptive. His driver is always eating, swearing and generally boorish. Both actors capture the zeitgeist, narrowly avoiding becoming caricatures. Ali is no doubt one of cinema’s most dynamic leading men and it’s easy enough to completely forget that it’s him behind the eccentric Shirley, such is his nuanced interpretation of the unlikeliest hero in America’s fight against inequality.
Believable but lacking depth, the dialogue is brought to life by the leads. From the moment the car departs, their preconceptions fall foul to the qualities each other exhibits. Tony Lip won’t judge Shirley, although Shirley often judges him. Lip, we learn, is a product of his environment. Shirley the architect of his. Both are the better for meeting one another.
A drama by label, the road-trip buddy flick is at its best as a comedy. When Lip takes on some of Shirley’s refined vernacular in letters to his wife, we can’t help but smile, if only to stop us shedding a tear. Similarly, in moments when Shirley learns to let loose, we learn the most profound lessons the film has to teach us. It’s easy-going. It doesn’t make you think too hard nor does it pose any tricky questions. That also means it’s easy to like. It’d take a hard heart not to.
Words: Ed Norvall