Friday, November 30, 2018
STARS: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini
DIRECTOR: Peter Farrelly
Odd couples in film have made for some intriguing pairings. Harold And Maude...Lars And The Real Girl...and Fay Wray in King Kong, perhaps the oddest couple of them all! Now we have rough-hewn Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen)--a hot tempered Italian nightclub bouncer, paired with the stoic and refined black musician, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), in Green Book--a retelling of how the two of them ventured into the heart of the deep south in 1962, when racial segregation was still alive and rearing its ugly head.
Vallelonga's son , Nick, who co-wrote the script, indicates that the events portrayed were based on fact. His dad, known as "Tony Lip," was hired to be Shirley's driver and subsequent bodyguard on a concert tour performed by The Don Shirley Trio, a name that may be familiar to music lovers of a certain age. Shirley was the consummate piano virtuoso, his brilliant talent literally shooting from his fingers. And yet he was subjected to the indignity and insanity of being the featured performer at many of these upscale clubs and venues, and not allowed to dine in their restaurant or use the restroom. He had to go somewhere that catered to "colored folk."
Mortensen gives a cliched but nonetheless affable--and in the end endearing--portrayal of Tony Lip, who starts off being prejudiced at the beginning of the film but grows through his adventure of observing the scope of racism in America first-hand, that dirty little chapter of our past that still hasn't all come out in the wash.
Ali's controlled performance, dictated by the character of the man he's portraying, still allows him to shine when the rare moment of letting off steam with Tony comes about.
My only knock on Green Book is its length--2 hours, 10 minutes--which could have been shortened if not for all the the background stuff on Tony and his family in the beginning. I kept thinking this is a story about the two men and their relationship, so why aren't we getting to it? But as it winds down, we see the importance of family during the holidays, and the ending is like a modern day It's A Wonderful Life--it's that heartwarming!
You're going to wonder if it was actually Mahershala Ali playing the piano, because it looks like he is. (And if he were, he'd be in the wrong profession right now!) It's actually the fingers of film composer Kris Bowers "grafted" onto Ali's arms. They do wonders with surgery these days.
Grade: A -