Racially charged and emotionally uplifting, Green Book enters our minds and our hearts with aplomb. The film is about a black pianist and an Italian driver interacting and engaging each other on heavy concepts such as morality, bigotry, and decency, but also on mundane topics like music, food, and behavior. But at the film’s core there stands the motif of dignity and maintaining it throughout the course of the story for both individuals. They are unwilling to compromise on this for they have their own ideas about what is right and wrong. Initially, the two men are at odds with one another, arguing over basic trivialities but soon traverse more serious territory like ethnic roles, racial profiling and understanding culture. This odd pair resultantly learn much from each other through their various encounters with people on their journey.
The story is set in the 1960s and “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) is a bouncer for a nightclub in New York. When his nightclub closes for renovations, Tony lands a job as a driver for one “Doc” Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a black pianist. Shirley is a part of a trio traveling across the Deep South for two months. Tony is given a copy of the Green Book by Shirley’s record studio, which is a guide for black travelers to find accommodations at restaurants and motels across the country. On their tour, Tony writes his wife letters, which are initially quite rudimentary before the astute and eloquent Doc Shirley assists him. This was charming and one of my favorite parts of the film because Tony eventually begins to understand how to convey more communicative concepts than he once knew. As the two continue to venture south, they increasingly come into contact with acts of prejudice, extreme racism, and violence – how they deal with these heinous acts is what makes the chemistry between these two explosive.
Overall, this movie was quite enjoyable. It’s not the first movie about racism or members of two races clashing before unifying, but it’s got heart – it’s funny, charming, and dynamic. I enjoyed seeing the character arc of Mortensen’s character. He initially shows signs of racism before becoming increasingly empathetic to the plight of Shirley and other blacks. Shirley is also an enjoyable character- he is educated, articulate, and confident, but he is not without insecurities and shortcomings. Whatever Shirley lacks, Tony makes up for with street knowledge and crudeness. The pair simply work well together. You’ll want to check this one out.