Here is the Film that won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Picture this year. It is another film that divided the critics and the audience. Most of the critics loved the two central performances but felt that the film was ‘racially tone-deaf’ in portraying a racist sympathetically and suggesting that he could be transformed by a relationship with a black man. The family of Don Shirley, the black musician portrayed by Mahershala Ali, have also been critical of how he is portrayed. One of the screenwriters is Nick Vallelonga, the son of the white driver who is transformed, Frank Vallelonga, so it is inevitably a biased account. However, the film is worth seeing for two wonderful performances by Ali, who won an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe and Viggo Mortensen, who was nominated for all three awards.
When Tony Lip (Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Ali), a world-class black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, they must rely on The Green Book to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger-as well as unexpected humanity and humor-they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.
Viggo Mortensen convinces absolutely as Tony Lip, a bouncer with the Tony Soprano brogue, junk-food appetite and grubby white vest, but not the sociopathy. Mahershala Ali is majestic as Dr Don Shirley, the highly educated, exquisitely refined piano virtuoso who hires Tony as chauffeur/protection for a tour into the Southern badlands of unmitigated racist brutality.
Tony will learn to see beyond pigmentation, and to appreciate the Chopin his boss so beautifully plays. Don, who claims not to have heard Aretha Franklin, will ditch the snobbiness and embrace popular black music. Ali laconically captures the development with just two different smiles. In colonialist mansions, where his request for the loo is answered by a finger pointing to a garden hut, he wears a rigid rictus during the post-recital bow. After exploding into a Little Richard number in a soul-food joint, he flashes the audience an ecstatic grin.
For all its unoriginality and naive optimism, Green Book is a delight. The advice is to suspend the racial angst for 130 minutes and luxuriate in a charming film expertly steered the right side of the line between the sweet and the saccharine by two stellar performances.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall