Though probably not destined to take home any Oscar wins, Green Book
, the new period piece that stars Viggo Mortensen as an Italian bouncer and Mahershala Ali as the black pianist who hires him to be his driver, still has plenty going for it. The feel-good movie features two terrific performances from its lead actors and has a strong message about tolerance. It screens at a select area theaters tonight and then opens wide tomorrow.
The film’s two main characters, Tony (Mortensen) and Don Shirley (Ali) couldn’t be more different from one another. An Italian-American who loves to eat, Tony is the kind of guy who punches before he thinks. When he loses his gig as a doorman, he struggles to find another job that will allow him that luxury and also pay him well enough to support his wife Dolores (Linda Cadellini) and their kids.
Initially, to make ends meet, he engages in an eating contest with a guy half his size. He beats some pretty tough competition and earns 50 bucks, but that’s not exactly going to pay the bills. So when he gets a call that a New York doctor is looking for a driver, he decides to at least go to an interview for the gig.
Turns out, the doctor is Don Shirley, a famous pianist who’s about to embark on a tour of the South. He needs a driver to take him from show to show. Tony doesn’t nail the interview, but Don likes the fact that he has a knack for averting trouble, so he gives him a shot. To get paid, however, Tony has to make sure that Don makes each and every one of the gigs. Tony says goodbye to his wife Dolores (Linda Cadellini) and then hits the road.
Right from the start, it’s apparent Tony and Don have their differences. Tony talks incessantly, and Don even has to ask him to keep it shut so he can get a bit of peace and quiet. He also asks Tony to keep from using profanity and to use proper diction. Tony doesn’t take kindly to his requests but tries to oblige.
Of course, trouble ensues once Tony and Don end up at restaurants and other establishments where Jim Crow rules are still in place. There’s a rather tense encounter with a police officer and another one with a restaurant owner. Through it all, Tony, who admits to being a consummate “bullshit artist,” finds a way to weasel out of the situations.
The two predictably bond despite their differences; the fine acting performances keep the film from becoming too schmaltzy.
Based on a true story, the movie includes photos of the real-life Tony and Don, who remained friends until they died a few years ago, at its conclusion so be sure to wait around for the credits.