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Green Book


I saw Green Book after the Oscars, and its win for Best Picture raises issues that I will discuss in a later post. For now, we shall focus on the film itself. Peter Farrelly’s portrait of Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and Dr Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is a charming story of a chalk-and-cheese pairing, one that deftly combines the buddy film and the road movie. Over the course of their journey around the southern United States in the early 1960s, the white, prejudiced, working class, uncouth Italian-American Tony develops respect and admiration for the black, socially aware, intellectual, educated, linguistically and musically gifted African-American Donald. Similarly, Donald confronts some of his own disappointments with life, personally, politically and professionally. The performances of the two leads are quite lovely, Mortensen carrying extra weight and conveying his character’s attitudes as much through body language and gestures as dialogue. Ali plays the fastidious and erudite Donald with pinpoint precision, turning what could have been an annoyingly prissy control freak into a character of warmth and heart. There is a genuine sense of growing affection between the two men, and in their surroundings, we see a convincing portrayal of prejudice and segregation. This is where the film misses some opportunities, as complex problems are given too easy a solution. Come the end of the film, one may wish for ambiguity and less pat a resolution, as instead the film falls into easy platitudes. There is also a missed opportunity to make more of Donald’s music, as the sequences when his fingers dance across the ivories of Steinway pianos are electrifying set pieces that affect Tony as much as the audience. It is a shame that Green Book does not explore its more interesting elements, instead opting a safe tale of friendship across social boundaries which, in today’s climate, feels like something of a cop out. That said, the performances manage to elevate the unremarkable material.



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