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Review: “Green Book” Mortensen and Ali Are Brilliant In Story Of Black Dignity in the 60s

Courtesy of IMDb

Peter Farrelly’s most recent film does not resemble the others in his repertoire. “Dumb and Dumber,” “Hall Pass,” “Shallow Hal,” and the infamous monstrosity known as “Movie 43” are all crude comedies filled with pratfalls and loveable idiots pulling hairbrained stunts and schemes. “Green Book” was an attempt of his to write something that will recognize him as an emotionally competent screenwriter and director. He succeeded, but his success is due only partly to his screenwriting and visual direction.

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali carried this film on their shoulders.

Tony Lip (Mortensen) is the driver and bodyguard of piano virtuoso Dr. Don Shirley as he tours the deep south with his classical inspired jazz trio. Being an affluent black man in the early 1960s, Shirley faced rampant discrimination from rural locals, police officers, even the wealthy white people he played for.

Mortensen was fortunate that one of the screenwriters for the film, Nick Vallelonga, was the son of the character that he was supposed to play. Vallelonga had boxes of voice recordings and pictures of his father, not to mention the ability to coach Mortensen in the nuanced mannerisms of Tony Lip.

Mortensen synthesized his abundance of reference material, and flexed his multilingualism, as he embodied Tony Lip, a hard-headed but well meaning Italian tough guy, who titles himself “the best bullshit artist in the Bronx.”

There was very little reference material to inform Ali’s character, dignified and eloquent musical genius Dr. Don Shirley. Despite this, Ali’s representation of the doctor was emotionally tender, with moments of sheer frustration bubbling forth under the duress of racial discrimination.

Throughout the film, Tony Lip sheds his racial insensitivity in the face of Dr. Shirley’s stoic resolve, as the socioeconomic realities of their nation stare both of them square in the face.

The relationship between Shirley and Lip studies black identity, the sometimes silent maintenance of personal dignity in the face of unquestioned culturally accepted ignorance. For this reason, Ali was the perfect casting choice for this role. His poised and elegant demeanor housed powerful conviction, and impressed upon Tony Lip (and the audience) the true difficulty of travelling, eating, and living as a black man in a strictly segregated part of America.

On top of the well executed theme, the plot and music of the film framed the commentary in a beautiful and charming light. Dr. Shirley’s classical-jazz pieces are played throughout the movie, and while some of the dialogue can be a little corny and predictable, the overall structure of the relationship between the two main characters grows beautifully due to the execution of Mortensen and Ali.

Verdict 4 out of 5 Stars

Review by Caleb Barber

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