Green Book: a watchable anti-racism road movie

February 12, 2019

 

Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever had so little to say about any eight movies this year as I do the ones they chose for the Best Picture nominees and Green Book might be the most unremarkable of the lot. Viggo Mortensen plays Tony “Lip”, a New York doorman who takes a job chauffeuring a black concert pianist named Dr Don Shirley on a two-month tour of the deep south in the run-up to Christmas. One's a bit of a slob, the other's a bit of a snob and initially, they get on each other's nerves, but gradually they learn to see past one another's foibles, start bonding and ultimately forge a friendship that lasts a lifetime. Imagine a way less eventful version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

 

They turn the “fish-out-of-water” stuff into a central theme of a sense of belonging and community, a sense of tribalism builds up and they start to bond through being equally objectionable to the deep south rich set. Tony has the right colour skin but no manners, Don has the right manners but the wrong coloured skin and eventually all they have in common with anyone else in a hundred-mile radius is their mutual sense of beleaguered discomfort. But the whole thing is surprisingly unsurprising, nothing ever really happens. They go from place to place, they have some banter, get into a few scrapes, a few arguments, they eat a lot and that’s it. Even the racism they encounter has no real sense of danger or bite.

 

Although Mortensen gets more screen time it’s Don’s story really, the bigger arc is nothing to do with Tony’s prejudice and all about Don learning to lower his defences. He’s so used to not belonging anywhere that he is never truly himself around anyone, except for Tony who gets to see him at his most vulnerable and likes him more for it not less, because now he understands him. Mortensen’s performance is a broad caricature but he plays it naturally enough, Ali has the subtler role and shows that Moonlight wasn’t just a fluke of good directing and they do have good chemistry together. The film has good flow, a good soundtrack and enough of the standard buddy movie banter to keep it one of the fastest 130 minutes you’ll have in a theatre, and ultimately I do recommend it, I had a good time watching it but it never actually impressed in any way. And you know what’s really sad? This is the third best of the Best Picture nominees.

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