Based on a true story, Peter Farrelly’s Green Book follows Tony (Viggo Mortensen), a working class Italian-American who is given the job of driving Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) for two months as he and his musical trio tour the deep south of the US during the 60s.
When we first meet Tony, he watches as his wife hands two drinks to the Black men doing some work in their kitchen. Once they leave, he then takes the glasses out of the sink and puts them in the bin.
When we first meet Don Shirley, he is surrounded by splendour, living above a concert hall. He has an air of superiority and arrogance and sits on an actual throne to interview Tony about the job.
It’s fair to say that neither men make the most ‘approachable’ first impression.
Don Shirley and Tony are polar opposites in many ways and this is abundantly clear, especially in their speech, diet and dress. They come from entirely different worlds but, as the road trip progresses, a new and unlikely friendship blossoms between the pair as they talk more.
The real depth to this friendship comes not just from them talking to each other but from them seeing the world around each other, too. For Tony, he is immediately impressed at how talented Don Shirley is and completely shocked by how much composure he manages to keep while those around him talk to him in such a degrading manner. He sees the everyday racism that Don faces, from not being able to stay or eat in certain establishments (even though he’s the guest of honour there) to being physically assaulted for having the audacity to go to a bar.
For Don, he starts to warm to this garish man (who never seems to stop eating) when he realises how much his family means to him and how much he would do for them. He helps Tony write beautiful letters to his wife (played brilliantly by Linda Cardellini) and starts to listen to his suggestions for food and music.
While Green Book doesn’t shy away from the injustice and horror of the racism faced, showing the shifts between locations and the different receptions they get along the way, it also focuses on the quiet power of Don Shirley putting himself through this in order to change hearts. He’s a very dignified man, carrying the weight of what he represents on his shoulders. But he is a man stuck between worlds. He is too white to be black and too black to be white. And he has become very used to carrying this burden alone so it is surprising to him, too, when Tony is suddenly there by his side, ready to jump in.
The film offers many beautiful shots of rural America as the pair travel from state to state, and Ali and Mortensen are the perfect pair to take us on this trip that is as upsetting as it is smile-inducing.
Moving and poignant, funny and delightful, Green Book offers a story about belonging and figuring out who you are that will surely warm even the hardest of hearts. Just superb.
Green Book is set for release in the UK on the 1st of February, 2019 which, frankly, is ages away.