Green Book is the Oscar-nominated film charting the true story of Tony 'Lip' Vallelonga (Vigo Mortensen), a stereotypical Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx, charged with the driving and protecting of African-American piano player Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on his concert tour through the Jim Crow areas of the Deep South in 1962. The film takes its title from the 'green book' given to Tony at the start of the tour which is a guide to the hotels and restaurants in which black people will be welcome.
It wouldn’t be Oscar season if there wasn’t significant controversy surrounding at least one of Best Picture nominees and the team behind Green Book have seemingly gone out of their way to take that burden on in multiple ways. Mortensen using the N-Word in a press conference was a poor start, even though his intentions were to condemn racist vernacular. It was then revealed that Shirley’s family were never contacted during the making of the film and take exception to, among other aspects, what they consider an inaccurate portrayal of how estranged the relationship was between Shirley and his brother. Finally, the film will lose viewers through its adoption of a 'white saviour' formula. Just like The Help, The Blind Side and countless other films before it, Green Book allows the white character to liberate the black character from their plight as well as favouring the white the character when it comes to back story and screen time (the film is written and co-produced by Tony’s son Nick and the bias in understanding is clear).
For these reasons, Green Book can’t be said to have the nuance of racial politics that fellow best picture nominee Black Panther has, nor does it have the originality of direction of The Favourite. However, and I wish there was a more articulate way to say this, but I just loved Green Book. I found myself completely swept up in its sentimental and earnest idealism and I was the happiest I have been when leaving a cinema in a long time. The script is funny and on-point to create a beautiful dynamic between the main characters in what is essentially a buddy road movie setting (director Peter Farrelly’s first big hit was Dumb and Dumber and there are some amusing comparisons to be made).
But what really make Green Book sparkle with life are the incredible central performances from Mortensen and Ali. Mortensen is truly transformative as Tony, complete with perfect
Green Book is a tremendously uplifting film in a time of hopelessness and uncertainty. There are joyous moments a-plenty, such as Tony’s participation in a hotdog eating competition and Shirley helping him write letters home to his wife, but the film also never lets up a subtle feeling of threat from the characters' surroundings. Of the Best Picture nominees I have seen so far, this is by far the best.