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Review: Oscar-winner Green Book

A very dynamic duo in their 1962 Cadillac, reviewed by Rosie Hough

Photo Credit: Entertainment One


Director: Peter Farrelly

Starring: Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali

Length: 2h 10min


I saw The Green Book on a very hungover Sunday with quite low expectations. I had heard surprisingly negative reviews from friends, however having read about it in more formal critiques I was still keen to go and see it. The film was slow to start, the acting at the beginning felt slightly stiff but once this dynamic duo got on the road in their 1962 Cadillac, the film continued to pick up the pace to draw to a very accomplished finish.

The story follows Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer from a nightclub in New York who picks up work as a driver for Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). Don Shirley is an African-American jazz piano player who wants to push boundaries by going on a tour through the deep south of America. We follow Tony and Don as they navigate these hostile environments with the help of ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book’, we watch as a truly heart-warming relationship blossoms.

The story deals with subject areas and topics such as homophobia and racism in a crafty way where it manages to come out as a film about friendship despite the cultural setting. Both characters serve different purposes to each other. It’s not just about Tony trying to protect Don in these settings, it’s about him teaching Don to leave behind his snobbery and feel more. One scene that really stood out to me was watching Tony jeer Don into trying his first fried chicken, the film is full of these light comic reliefs which was not what I had anticipated. Don also teaches Tony a lot, I was worried at the beginning when it seemed it would turn into a ‘My Fair Lady’ situation, however the film avoided this easily, allowing Tony to keep his thick Italian-Bronx accent, but develop new skills from Don, primarily through writing letters to his wife, which manage to not compromise his character. 

Both Mortensen and Ali gave some excellent performances - the film is carried by this duos acting and seemingly natural chemistry. I had been astounded by both Mortensen and Ali on separate occasions and this film blew me away with their obvious flexibility as actors. Captain Fantastic is one of my favourite films, and Mortensen could not have been further from this character yet still he excelled. His dialect was credible and his method acting techniques proved effective – he really seemed to be Tony.

Ali also was extremely impressive, having in only seen him in Moonlight previously (he played the role of Juan who was undoubtedly my favourite character), I again had high expectations. The character of Don seemed a slightly harder one to crack, a far more unique and rare appearance on the screen than the rough Italian Mortensen played. Due to this unfamiliarity of the character of Don, it took a little longer for me to appreciate Ali’s performance but it was on par with Mortensen. The supporting roles such as Tony’s wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini), unfortunately left a lot to be desired. The acting in the family scenes at the beginning really set this film off on a bad start, it felt incredibly stiff and Tony and Dolores seemed to have no chemistry. Thankfully by the end of the film this seemed to dissipate and the relationship became a lot more believable (however this may have been due to the further exposition in the road trip element of the film).

 This film did shock me, as we journey further into the south the duo are confronted with more and more prejudice despite Don’s performances being applauded by the white audience, he is still instructed to use separate bathrooms, and treated like second class citizen on all accounts. The late 60s seem not too long ago, it was slightly heart-breaking to be shown these trials that were once faced (and still are today by many in different ways). This topic matter is handled surprisingly well by a director that is predominantly known for his comedies (e.g. Dumb and Dumber).

As I mentioned the story of friendship is what dominates this film. Overall it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon, it’s the type of film that makes you feel both warm and fuzzy inside and extremely grateful for the time we live in. It is nominated for both the BAFTA and Oscar for best film, however with films like Vice also in the running, I believe it is unfortunately unlikely to win. Mortensen and Ali are up for best actor and best supporting actor (respectively) which seem more likely. Either way I would definitely recommend this film, I can’t quite express the mood it seems to depict but it was an incredibly entertaining watch.

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