– When it is a Road Trip film it works
really well, with two charismatic leads, as a social commentary film which it
is desperately trying to be, well it fails dismally.
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
As it gets close to February, I continue my yearly tradition of trying to see all of the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars ceremony. While this is the plan, it is rarely successful, however, I thought it best to at least see all the films with a strong chance of winning on the night. Well, this leads us to Green Book which is actually a very interesting film. For it is a film of two halves, one that works and one that doesn’t, and both of these halves are in direct competition with each other.
So to set the scene, it is in the early 1960s and Frank “Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) works for the Copacabana at night as a combination bouncer/maître d/driver. As well as this, Tony always finds an opportunity to make a quick buck “bullshitting” people. When the Copacabana closes for a couple of months for renovations Tony is left with very little money to keep his family going when he gets a call about a driving opportunity at Carnegie Hall for a Dr Shirley (Mahershala Ali), only to find that he is not a medical doctor but a musician, he is black, and that he is about to embark on a tour of the deep south. Tony needs the money, but he also has problems with African-Americans to the point that he threw out two glasses that African-American plumbers used when fixing the pips in his house. Well eventually Tony agrees to take ‘Doc’ Don Shirley on his tour, well only after Don called his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) to check if it was all right.
the film works the best is in those moments when it follows the standard Road
Trip formula, of sticking two people with very different backgrounds together
in the one place of a long period of time and lets them work their issues out.
So we have Don helping Tony out with letters home to Dolores and Tony helping
Don realise that fried chicken is
amazing. As this arc continues throughout the film where we get moments of
light-hearted banter, some decent chuckle moments, and some real drama. All of
this is really helped by two leads, Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali, who
are both amazingly good at what they do, and I would frankly watch just about
any film they were starting in.
However, while Green Book is a good Road Trip film, it is an awful film with regards to social commentary because it wants to have its cake and yet not offend anyone. The film gets its name from The Negro Motorist Green Book, which is a guidebook published for African-Americans who had to travel in the South of the USA. Now you see this book a couple of times in the film, and it does come up when they go deeper into the South. But do you know why they had to have a handbook, well because travelling in the South when you are an African-American could be deadly if you went to the wrong place. The film hints at this, but it always holds back bar one time when Don goes into the wrong bar because he needs a drink (a plot point that is never really explained or resolved). Worst still, the film constantly falls into the trap of focusing on the individual people and their racism, and never on the structural issues that enable it. This includes a long drawn out sequence going ‘it’s okay not all police are bad.’
In the end, do we recommend Green Book? Well yes/no/maybe. It is a film of two halves, when it is a Road Trip, it is light and funny, and a great film about two unlikely souls sharing a ride. But it also clearly want to be more, but it does not have the conviction to actually be more. It is a film grandparents will go to, shake their head at all the racism, be glad things have changed, and no time whatsoever be challenged about the world they live in, and well, that’s a shame and a missed opportunity.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Green Book
Directed by – Peter Farrelly
Written by – Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie & Peter Farrelly
Music by – Kris Bowers
Cinematography by – Sean Porter
Editing By – Patrick J. Don Vito
Starring – Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Dimitar Marinov, Mike Hatton, Iqbal Theba, Sebastian Maniscalco & Von Lewis
Production/Distribution Companies – Participant Media, DreamWorks Pictures, Innisfree Pictures, Cinetic Media & Universal Pictures
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 6; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13