By Steven Sheehan.
It’s that time of year when the big awards are set to be handed out in Hollywood. A time when the film industry can pat itself on the back while we argue about the films being nominated.
Without fail, you’ll also find a crop of Oscar-bait films thrown into the mix. You know the kind, the ones that have been made specifically to pick up an Academy Award. Films that are so full of saccharine sweetness you’ll feel sick after watching them.
But every now and then there are Oscar-bait films that manage to rise above their trappings. Green Book falls firmly into this category – a funny and heart-warming drama led by two fantastic performances.
It’s based on the true story of the most unlikely of friendships. Set in 1962, we meet Viggo Mortensen as Tony Vallalonga, an Italian-American bonehead who thinks with his fists before anything else.
The club he works at as a bouncer closes and Tony is in need of some money to keep a roof over his family’s head. He applies for a job to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) – a highly regarded, but eccentric, black classical jazz pianist – across the Deep South.
It’s something of a reversal of Driving Miss Daisy, where we have a poor white guy acting as a chauffeur to a rich black guy. Don has a series of concerts in a number of racist states in southern America and Tony’s job is to get him to each venue safely and on time.
Director Peter Farrelly (more well known for comedies like There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber) sets Tony up as pretty unlikeable at first. His attitude towards people of colour is pretty ignorant and entrenched in outdated values.
Green Book is as much about Tony’s journey towards better understanding, as it is about the friendship between the two men. Mortensen and Ali really shine and it’s no surprise both actors received Oscar nominations last week.
Mortensen is brilliant as Tony, leaning into a heavy, thick Bronx Italian accent (bada-bing, bada-boom!). It’s a performance that’s over-sized and flamboyant but always enjoyable. Mortensen has always chosen his roles carefully, but from Lord of the Rings to The Road he is always a great watch.
On the other hand, Ali’s character is stiffer, more internalised and harder to warm to at first. As the journey progresses we begin to understand more of what makes him tick. After finding wider recognition following 2016’s Moonlight, this confirms his stature as a formidable performer.
There are some deeper, darker moments that occur as they journey further South. But Green Book retains its light sense of humour and it’s a joy watching the two leads bounce off each other all the way.
By the time the story reaches its conclusion on Christmas Eve you should know what type of ending to expect. But this is one of those occasions when it doesn’t matter. Because it’s not the destination, but the journey that counts.
Green Book opens nationwide in UK cinemas on February 1st.