First Hit: Excellent acting, engaging story, and both funny and thought-provoking make this film fun to sit through.
The story starts out having to show the ability of Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) to manipulate a situation to his benefit and then his questionable racist views. The first by absconding a hat of a big time crime boss and the other putting glasses in his kitchen trash can after being used by two African American plumbers after fixing his sink.
The first event closes the Copacabana Club because of destruction caused the by hat owner where Tony works as a bouncer. This leads to his unemployment. Weighing a job option from the hat owner because he finds the missing hat (the one he stole) or a possible job driving for Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), who is “not a real doctor” but a three-time Ph.D. in music and related areas.
As a driver for Dr. Shirley, he’d be driving him to concerts throughout the south. As a sophisticated classically trained black musician in the 1960’s, he will not be well received by some of the people they may run into during the tour. Tony sees this as an opportunity to make good money and he knows Dr. Shirley will need protection. The “Green Book” is giving to Tony and lists African American friendly hotels and restaurants in the south to help his navigate the south.
The film really defines the differences between these two men and the deep truth they both believe about how people need to be treated. During the film their friendship unfolds in glorious ways; during the long drives, over meals, and over drinks. To watch each, unpeel their veneers and support each other during the tribulations each finds themselves in was truly engaging.
The letters Tony writes, as dictated by Dr. Shirley, to his wife Delores (Linda Cardellini) are both funny and sweet. The ending scene when Dr. Shirley meets Delores was perfect.
What stood out for me was the ways each of the characters learned and grew from their relationship during this trip. In true life they stayed close friends for the rest of their lives and died within months of each other.
Mortensen was phenomenal as Tony Lip. Yes, his accent slightly changed during some of the scenes, but his spirit and acting made this small error a non-issue. He was great and may be up for an award during awards season. Ali was no less phenomenal than Mortensen. The ability to capture his character's schooling and skills in a character in such a reserved, yet engaging way, was sublime. Cardellini was wonderful as Tony’s wife who shared her husband with Dr. Shirley. Nick Vallelonga and Brian Hayes Currie wrote an outstanding script. The dialog between Tony and Dr. Shirley was filled with quips and a subtle unfolding of two very different people to each other. Very well done. Peter Farrelly did a wonderful job of setting up scenes and sets that reflect the time and era of the 1960’s.
Overall: This was a very entertaining and thoughtful film filled with moments of sadness and joy.