Movie Review: Green Book (Spoilers!)

From the moment I watched the trailers of “The Green Book”, I knew that this movie would be something special, and would probably be one of the few Oscar films that I actually made a conscious decision to go and watch in the cinema. I am not sure if it was the premise and the little bits of character that Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen showed in the trailer, or the music, but I am very glad that I made the time to watch this in the cinema. It was refreshingly simple and wore its heart on its sleeves, something that I feel is becoming rarer with movies today; it boasted great performances from both Ali and Mortensen; and is a great character driven piece about two unlikely people who both grew after one long road trip in the American South in the ‘60s.

“Green Book”, a movie that was inspired by true events, was directed by Peter Farrelly. It was written by Brian Hayes Curie, Peter Farelly, and Nick Vallelonga, the real life son of Tony Vallelonga, one of the main characters in the film. It had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on September 11, 2018, and had its wide release premiere on November 16, 2018. However, here in the Philippines, it was only released last week, February 6, 2019.  It was hailed as one of the top ten films of 2018 by the American Film Institute, it won Best Theatrical Motion Picture at the most recent Producers Guild of America Awards, won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture- Musical or Comedy, and garnered five nominations at the upcoming Academy Awards. These nominations include Best Picture, a Best Actor nomination for Mortensen, and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Ali.

Image Source: Green Book Facebook Page

Set in the ‘60s, the movie follows Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), an Italian-American who ends up becoming the driver and bodyguard of “Doc” Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), an African-American genius pianist, as Don and his trio embark on an eight week concert tour in the Mid West and Deep South. For the trip, Tony was given a book called “The Negro Motorist Green Book”, a guide book for him to find motels, hotels, restaurants and filling stations that cater to African-Americans. Along the way, the two learn more about each other and both gain new perspectives during the eight week trip.

While many might not like its simplicity, I found it refreshing, especially in a day and age when movie plots are sometimes quite complicated, and the themes are sometimes not very subtle. It was also highly reminiscent of older and simpler kinds of movies.

This movie was also very character driven, and in that department, this movie delivered, not only with how the characters grow and develop, but with the great chemistry that Mortensen and Ali had with each other.

Mahershala Ali as “Doc” Don Shirley & Viggo Mortensen as Tony Vallelonga
Image Source: Green Book Official Site

This movie also explores a lot of themes, aside from prejudice and racism, as it also talks about the struggle that people who feel that are stuck in the middle and that don’t truly feel like they belong in one label or world or the other go through.  

Mortensen once again proves that he is a chameleon of an actor, as he once again disappeared into this new character, which is why it was no surprise that he was nominated for Best Actor.

Ali plays extremely well off of Mortensen and vice versa. Ali also holds his own well portraying a genius of a man who has a lot of internal struggles and demons to keep at bay.

“Green Book” was a refreshing movie in its simplicity, and a movie that definitely has strong and great performances that will keep you hooked for the entire movie. In fact, I barely noticed the two hours and ten minutes run time, and walked out of the cinema with a light and happy heart.

Now, you know the drill, from here on out, there will be spoilers!

Aside from this being a great road trip movie, and a movie about an unlikely friendship, this movie was also a low-key Christmas movie, as they tried to make it home to New York from the Deep South in time for Christmas. Aside from that, the themes of friendship, forgiveness, and spending time with friends, or in Doc’s case, a new found friend, all lend itself towards the usual themes of a Christmas movie.

The cinematography of the movie was good, and the colors on the screen made me feel like I was watching an older movie. The pacing of the story and the pacing of the development of these characters was done in a nice and organic way that wasn’t too slow or rushed at all.

However, the centerpiece of this movie, aside from that gorgeous turquoise Cadillac DeVille, were the amazing performances of Mortensen and Ali that breathed life into these memorable characters. This movie would not have worked at all if the chemistry between the two wasn’t great, and if their performances weren’t up to scratch. Thankfully, these two were evenly matched.

Tony driving Doc in that gorgeous turquoise Cadillac.
Image Source: Green Book Official Site

Mortensen is definitely a chameleon of an actor is he basically disappeared into Tony, from the way he spoke, to the way he walked. During the course of the movie, Tony learns not only to widen his perspective in terms of culture and how to write good love letters to his wife, but also gets a wake up call on how intolerant others can be of those who look different from you. He also learns a thing or two about holding his temper. In return, I do think that he was able to teach Doc a thing or two about enjoying life as it is, and how to reach out to not be lonely all the time.

Ali was perfect as Doc. You could see all the struggles that Doc went through just with a look and a short outburst, and I love how Doc gradually opened up and loosened up in the end as well. He taught Tony how to write great letters and taught him how to appreciate culture, and in return, he got loyalty and a great friend who gave him a little lesson or two on how to stand your ground when needed and to never be a stranger, as being lonely all your life isn’t really that healthy for a person.

Doc’s class on how to write great, romantic letters.
Image Source: Green Book Official Site

What intrigued me more aside from the usual themes of racism is how Doc never really felt he belonged to any of the two worlds that he should be fitting in. This resonated with me as this feeling of not fitting in has always been present in my life not only as a person, but as someone who is a little bit of a Third Culture Kid.

In the end, “Green Book” was a great road trip movie with a great friendship (and car), that boasted great performances for this simple yet character driven movie.

Have you seen “Green Book”? What did you think of it? What did you like or not like about it? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Image Source/s: Green Book Facebook Page, Green Book Official Site

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