I’ve been meaning to watch this movie for a while. On the surface we have another get whitey, dumb cracker, Magical Negro, Oscar bait type move. Forrest Gump drives Mr. Daisy to the deep South for racism and abuse. The all-knowing and vastly superior Negro speaks parables of wisdom and tolerance, multiplies the fishes and loaves, and shows the stupid white people the error of their ways. The End. Well, that is not exactly what happened in Green Book. Please understand my jumping to conclusions. This movie was directed by Peter Farrelly of Dumb and Dumber.
Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) was an Italian-American bouncer at the Copo Club, who looked like he just stepped out of the movie Goodfellas. The club closed for extensive renovations, so he needed another gig to help support his wife Dolores (Linda Cardalenni) and his sons. After some hilarious and very revealing backstory, he accepted a job from Dr. Don Shirley, a brilliant concert pianist who was also an
Eggplant Black Man. He was to tour the Deep South, and this was 1962, so Dr. Don needed both a driver and an bodyguard. What an odd couple they were.
Dr. Don Shirley was brilliant, refined, self-absorbed, aloof and sanctimoniously critical of those around him. Tony Lip was earthy, salty, profane, fearless and totally impervious to the subtle archery that Dr. Shirley continuously sent his way. Tony had a world view and moral code that was unshakable and downright lovable. He was a family man with a job to do and he fielded the doctor’s criticisms and directives effortlessly.
Tony knew that an uppity Black Man who was headed to the Deep South was going to bring trouble. This was 1962 and they had to refer to a Green Book, a guide for Negroes who traveled, at their own peril, into The South.
As you might guess, the deeper this duo penetrated into The South, the worse things got. They were discriminated against, cursed, ridiculed, insulted, and eventually brutalized and arrested by a crew of Louisiana cops. These Jethros made In The Heat Of The Night seem tame. I won’t spoil things, but the resolution of this outrage was beyond satisfying. The tour culminated with the ultimate insult and this dynamic duo had had enough; they decided to do something about it.
Green Book was not merely a movie about the horrible inequalities that existed in the Deep South in the early 1960’s. This movie is more than just another story about racism, told through the eyes of a white person who discovered just how terrible this racism was. Green Book was a movie that shows the condescension and horrible racism that existed in that time period, yes, but it was mostly about the growth of two individuals. Green Book is all about the interaction between Tony and Dr. Shirley.
The acting in this movie was stellar. Tony perfectly portrayed an Italian-American working man, with the attitudes, swagger and accent. Tony was Falstaff Beer, while Dr. Shirley was fine wine and Cutty Sark. As the windshield time mounted up, we witnessed an amazing realization and bond between the two characters. Shirley was determined to refine Tony, and Tony was equally determined to drag the doctor into the real world reality of his race. What set this movie apart was that the growth was not one-sided. Dr. Shirley was far from the typical Magical Negro, in spite of his brilliance and refinement. He definitely had his own issues.
Green Book was a true story. The acting, pacing and dialogue in this film was spectacular. The time period, moods and attitudes were captured perfectly. The stereotypes were there, in all of their fried-chicken and watermelon glory, but they were not presented in a way that insulted the intelligence of the viewer. The great soundtracks, sets, acting and timing made this movie a solid winner that was quite uplifting. Green Book was a rare mix of humor and devastating social commentary. Viggo Mortenson and Mahershala Ali were brilliant as two totally different individuals who eventually landed on common ground.
Look for both of these actors to be prominently mentioned at Oscar time. This film is not Oscar-bait, it is Oscar worthy.
10.0/10.0 with the Goatesians Seal of Approval For Excellence