Movie review: Green Book

I seldom see serious movies in the theatre, mostly because if I am going to go to the bother of showing up at an appointed time and putting up with sticky floors and talkative movie goers, I had better enjoy the movie. (Which is why I generally stick with Disney/Pixar/Marvel movies in the theatre.) But this movie had come highly recommended, so off we went.
And it is fabulous! Viggo Mortensen plays an Italian-American bouncer who gets hired to drive Mahershala Ali, an African-American musician through the South on a performance tour. (“Green Book” refers to a travel guide for African-Americans designating safe places to stay throughout the South.) The movie traces both the journey and the various indignities piled upon Mahershala Ali’s character as well as the evolving relationship between the two men, who, on the surface, have nothing in common.
The plot, based loosely upon a real story, is perhaps fairly predictable. What puts this movie above many similar ones is the quality of the script and the quality of the acting. The movie doesn’t try and make any sweeping generalizations or moral statements, it sticks to the story of the two men, and the intimate nature of the movie does its work for it. Both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are excellent in portraying nuance and complexity in two characters that could easily have fallen into easily defined stereotypes. Viggo’s character is overtly racist, and he only reluctantly takes the job because he needs the money, but as the movie goes on, he proves to have a kind and tolerant heart. Mahershala’s character is cultured and well-educated, but that isn’t enough to prevent him from suffering discrimination. He thinks he’s superior to Viggo’s character, but he learns to appreciate the strengths of Viggo’s character while trying to improve him at the same time.
One of the most touching points of the movie comes when Mahershala’s character suffers an identity crisis. He has jumped through all the hoops of education and accomplishment and yet, he is still treated in accordance with the color of his skin. And the final indignity is at his final stop where he’s expected to play in front of an audience at a club, but the club won’t let him eat there because he’s black. The emotional crux of the movie is at this point, when the bond developing between the two men is tested in how they react in that moment.
The emotional shading and the growth of the characters is what makes this movie special. Four thumbs up for this movie. Go and see it!

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