Tuesday, August 9, 2022

“Green Book” – You’ve seen it before, but see it again

When “Green Book” took home the Academy Award for Best Picture, you could almost hear the groans. Social media lit up with people condemning the Oscars for once again pandering to generic, inoffensive and cinematically boring movies.

So, walking into the theater, I was really only there out of curiosity. Could “Green Book” be as lame of a duck as they say?

As I walked out of the theater, something kind of funny struck me. Inadvertently, the film had proved its point. I went into a movie about prejudice and assumptions assuming I wouldn’t find anything of merit, so it was a very pleasant surprise when I realized I actually enjoyed what I’d just seen.

“Green Book” tells the story of Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a close-minded man from the Bronx, who is hired to drive and protect musician Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour through the deep south.

The film is based on the lives of real people. While the film’s accuracy has been challenged by Shirley’s family, the film still manages to tell a moving story outside of that.

That’s not to say the movie isn’t a little safe—it’s very much so. Odds are, you’ve seen a movie about racism. Odds are, you’ve seen a movie that dissects racism better than “Green Book” does.

It’s very simplistic in its messaging, and there’s absolutely no nuance to it. Two men become unlikely friends after they realize they’re not so different after all. That description could fit an innumerable amount of movies.

The film’s real strength comes from the chemistry between its two leads. Ali is fantastic as always. His portrayal of the complex and conflicted Shirley is understated and very real feeling. Mortenson’s performance, on the other hand, is a little odd. He plays into the Italian stereotype a bit too much, sometimes devolving into a cartoon. But ultimately, he commits to his performance so hard that it’s difficult to knock him for it.

Both performances are made infinitely better when paired together. As simple as the film’s message is, the on-screen friendship of Ali and Mortenson is fairly complex. The path they go on from being slightly hostile associates to legitimate friends is believable and genuinely heartwarming by the end.

While the film does nothing special in the way of talking about race issues, it does tell a poignant tale of friendship.

Is it Best Picture worthy? Not at all. Is it still an entertaining, feel-good movie? Totally, and you shouldn’t let any awards season mistakes steer you clear of it.

Three out of five stars.


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