USA | 2018 | 130 mins | Cert 12A
Biography, Comedy, Drama
A working-class Italian-American bouncer, Tony Lip (Mortensen) becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (Ali), on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South. Confronted with racism and danger, as well as unexpected humanity and humour, they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.
Mortensen, with a pot belly and a Bronx accent, disappears gleefully into his role as a soft-hearted slob. He makes Tony so warm and fun to watch – look at him fold an entire large pizza in half and eat it like a sandwich – that it’s easy to overlook the fact that the character is one more fast-talking Italian-American stereotype. He’s a small-time scammer, tough on the outside, yet a family man to his core, with a pasta-eating dinner table full of relatives and a patient wife (Linda Cardellini), who is smarter than he is. In an early scene, Tony also reveals himself to be an unthinking racist, setting up the problem the film will, of course, resolve. After two black workmen leave his kitchen, he picks up the water glasses they have drunk from and tosses them into the bin. Green Book is at times as unaware as Tony, stumbling into the stereotypes it is supposedly trying to break down. The most eye-opening aspect of the film exposes that everyday racism, which still shaped the Deep South in the early 1960s. Shirley hands Tony a small volume called The Negro Motorist Green Book, an actual handbook that guided black travellers to hotels and restaurants that would accept them. In one harrowing scene, Tony and Shirley are pulled off the road by police because a local law forbids black people to be out after dark. The film heads inevitably toward a moment of brotherhood between two men who must have seemed unlikely friends in life, and are all too likely on screen. BBC.com culture Caryn James 27 November 2018