There is a lot of talk online about Green Book being an ‘Oscar-baiting’ film, and that is probably a little true. It does have a lot of the elements that are considered to be typical for films deemed to be playing the Oscars system; a biographical picture that addresses a strong social issue, (in this case, racism) and a character(s) that go on journey of self-discovery and come out the other side with greater respect and understanding of their fellow humans. In my opinion, I don’t really care if a film is trying to bait the system, as long as they don’t put out a film that is style over substance.
I am pleased to announce that Green Book has a lot of substance. In fact, bold claim I know, but I am confident that this film will still be in my top ten films of 2019 come the end of December.
The story is a simple one; a working-class Italian-American is hired to drive a highly educated, slightly pompous African-American pianist on a concert tour across the Deep South in 1962, slap-bang in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. The simplicity of the story allows for a greater focus on it’s heart, the relationship between the two central characters; Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali).
Given the underlying subject matter, I was expecting this film to be a hard-hitting and gritty commentary on racism and acceptance but it is actually a lot more subtle than that. Whilst some may say that the film plays it too safe, I personally feel that the subtlety plays in its favour. Fundamentally, Green Book is not a film about racism, it is a film about friendship and as a viewer it is quite easy to get distracted by the changing dynamic of the two central characters, therefore when an overtly racist comment or action occurs it is quite jarring and uncomfortable. For me, this technique is a lot more effective at portraying its message than being overly preachy.
Films involving serious and sombre subject matters such as racism, more often than not end up being serious and sombre affairs themselves. Rather refreshingly, Green Book breaks the mould and is actually a charming, funny and genuinely heart-warming story, thanks mainly to the standout performances of Mortensen and Ali. Their Oscar nominations are thoroughly deserved and I will be more than happy for them both to take their respective awards.
Mortensen portrays the tough bouncer and self-proclaimed ‘bullshit artist’ with a charmingly authentic career-best performance, full of heart and humour. Whilst he provides most of the comic relief throughout the movie, he is also the embodiment of family and community. Whereas, Ali’s portrayal of the complicated, detached Don Shirley is poignant and thought-provoking. He plays a man caught between two worlds, trying so hard to fit in that he isolates himself from both, and loses himself in the process.
As good as their individual performances are, I do not believe that either actor would have been half as good had they been performing opposite anyone else. As with their real-life counterparts, Mortensen and Ali seemed to bring the best out of each other, learning and growing until the very end.
It would an injustice to talk about strong performances and not mention Linda Cardellini’s depiction of Tony’s wife, Delores. Although she does not have a huge amount of screen time, the emotion and presence that she brings to the table is on par with both Mortensen and Ali.
Overall, this is a brilliant movie that does not feel anywhere near its two hour plus runtime. I always say to watch a film yourself and make up your own mind but absolutely go see this film, you will not regret it.