Movie Review: 'The Green Book'

John Thomas
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali

“You can do better,” says the colored man to the white man. The white man replies to the colored man, “you can be better.” The colored man is Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a classical  pianist about to embark on an eight-week concert tour of the deep South. The white man is Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), who is an out-of-work bouncer engaged to be Don’s driver on the tour.

At their first meeting, the two men appear to be from different planets, barely even speaking the same language. Don is a reserved, sophisticated, educated and culturally aware gentleman who appreciates life’s finer things. Tony is a rough-and-tumble, carefree, confrontational and caring family man who does what needs to be done.

In spite of their drastic differences they agree to the driver/passenger arrangement and set out from Don’s home atop Carnegie Hall in New York City. Don’s agents have leased a pale turquoise-blue Cadillac sedan for his use. The other two members of the Don Shirley Trio follow in a matching Cadillac.

Conveniently placed on the front seat of Don’s car is a copy of The Green Book. The book is a 60s publication distributed to colored people planning to travel around the South by car. The book lists hotels, restaurants, bars and other sites where “coloreds” are welcome.

The first concert goes well. Don is lavishly introduced to the audience and is much applauded  for his performance afterwards. As the tour continues deeper and deeper into the South, problems arise. His performances are as warmly received, but his presence outside the concert halls, in restaurants and clubs, is often frowned upon or he is denied admittance.

During lunch breaks, as promised to his wife, Tony begins writing letters home describing the tour. One day Don asks to read one of them and shivers at the primitive style in which the letter is written (he can do better he feels). Tony chooses to play anything but classical music on the car radio and is stunned to find out that Don does not know of Little Richard, Ray Charles or Chuck Berry, but may have heard their music (Tony decides that should change). This “re-education” between the two men continues as they circle the South.

When it comes to food, Tony devours everything in sight – Don nibbles. Crossing the border into Kentucky, Colonel Sanders territory, their first lunch stop is one of the Colonel’s chicken restaurants. The best fried chicken Tony has ever eaten and the first time Don has ever eaten fried chicken.

The tour is drawing to a close and the focus now is to return to the Bronx so Tony can celebrate Christmas with his family – as promised. The weather is not favorable for the long drive and the likelihood of reaching their destination by the 25th is remote.

There will however, be a big surprise at the door to Tony’s home on Christmas Eve.

Directed by Peter Farrelly (Credits:  Dumb and Dumber,  There’s Something About Mary) this “should see” movie runs 130 Minutes.


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