Green Book takes place in 1962 when our country was being shaken to its roots by the issue of racism. Violent demonstrations in the south and even some intense action in the government fighting against integration were common news headlines during those years.
A brilliant pianist, Don Shirley, was a major musical star in concert halls, nightclubs, recitals, etc. Now the black artist has been booked to play in several venues in the south, the deep south. He has obtained a copy of the book, Green Book, which catalogs accommodations for black travelers in the segregated south.
Don Shirley is known as Dr. Shirley. He was not a post graduate student but had several honorary degrees during his career. Doc Shirley is played by Mahershala Ali, in an outstanding performance. Ali has one Oscar to his credit (Moonlight 2016) and this may very well be a chance for another gold statue.
Viggo Mortensen has the role of Tony Vallelonga, commonly known as Tony Lip in his circle of Italian-Americans in The Bronx.
Tony Lip is a tough, street-wise member of that community and he is known for his ability to convince guys to ‘pay attention.’ Tony is happily married to a lovely woman and they have two young children. Tony is loving, caring and always concerned about their well-being.
Tony is employed at New York’s Copacabana night club as a bouncer and a peacekeeper. When the club announces an extended closure to update the premises, Tony and other employees are out of a job, at least for a few months.
Tony is offered a job as the chauffeur for Dr. Don Shirley on a two-month concert tour. Tony declines, based on his racist attitude and his reluctance to being away from the family for two months. But he is soon convinced when Shirley raises the terms of the compensation.
Tony goes to Shirley’s home to settle the details. He is overwhelmed by Shirley’s abode and lifestyle, living in a luxurious apartment in the upper floors of Carnegie Hall.
And they start out, in northern cities in Ohio, Indiana, then veering south through Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc. At each place they encounter more and more restrictions against Shirley, including rest rooms, lodging and restaurants.
Often it is up to Tony to protect Shirley from harm and a few times he is less than fully successful. As the tour proceeds, the two men argue, laugh together, get more familiar with each other and grow closer. Tony grows more tolerant of Shirley’s race and his assigned role as Shirley’s protector. Shirley overcomes his displeasure dealing with Tony’s boorishness. They learn from each other.
Shirley is a super sophisticate, with obsessive dress and food habits. Tony is a monstrous eater. In an early scene he is shown winning a contest by eating 25 hot dogs!
Tony is consuming a large bucket of KFC chicken while they are in the car and offers some to Shirley, who refuses to eat with his hands.
Tony convinces him to try it. He does and does not stop, going for more. And Shirley follows Tony’s lead, throwing the bones out the car window.
There are increased interchanges like that and at the end they have a mutual affection. Green Book has all the elements of a great film — drama, humor, danger, no dull moments and wonderful performances by the two leads. I expect that we will hear this title several times during awards ceremonies.
Green Book is at Harkins Sedona 6 theater.