I remember one of my old university lecturers telling us that one of the genres he desperately misses are road films. A film where main characters embark on a long road trip, altering their lives in the process. From the genres description alone what else can you identify Greek Book as? While the genre is still kicking around in various ways, it is a dying genre waiting at the gates of cinematic heaven. But thanks to Green Book, the genre might be making a miraculous recovery with I’m hoping a new reputation for fantastic character stories.
Green Book is the best example I’ve seen of a film using its characters to the utmost perfection, and it was all done so easily. The main characters Tony (Viggo Mortensen) and Dr. Shirley (Mahershala Ali) are two completely different personalities, Tony is the tough guy, family man Italian American with a huge apatite, and Dr. Shirley is a sophisticated pianist living alone above Carnegie Hall. These two people you imagine would never get along together, but Tony takes the job of driving Dr. Shirley on a music tour in America’s deep south that creates this unlikely friendship. You get a lot of satisfaction seeing these characters change and learn from each other, both teaching each other how to be better people in different areas of their lives. The film is full of these magical moments that make Green Book a warm but serious watch given its backdrop.
Viggo and Mahershala give fantastic performances well worthy of their Oscar nominations. The chemistry between the two makes their character transformations even more compelling to watch. What’s even more fascinating is that, on the filmmaking side, Green Book isn’t out there, it doesn’t break barriers with revolutionary shots or editing which isn’t going to satisfy those who look into every crevice of a film. To do this is a waste of time because whilst I did often find myself looking for more, I wasn’t seeing the obvious. Let the performances of Green Book take you on the journey.
The fantastic development of character is first and foremost helped thanks to amazing direction from Peter Farrelly. Having some hit and miss comedic films in the past, Green Book is some of his best-performed humour, which in itself stems from fantastically written screenplay and dialogue. Interestingly, a co-writer of Green book is Nick Vallelonga, the son of the real-life Tony, which is a significant boost to the authenticity of the writing, even though it came under fire recently.
In no way is this a “new” story, a lot of what happens in the film has been done many times over. But to put a spin on what JFK once said, it’s not what the story can do for you, but what you can do for the story (interestingly JFK’s brother Robert. F Kennedy is mentioned in the film). What Green Book does with the simple road film formula is done with great talent and directions that makes more of an impact on the characters.
The racist themes of Green book are simple, and some may say what is being addressed in Green Book has always been addressed, yet it still has the guts to show racism at its cruellest and ugliest. It does attempt to try new things, there is a really powerful scene in which Dr. Shirly laments about his inability to fit into either black or white culture, helping the audience to understand the extent of his loneliness, it’s a real kick in the fact for both Tony and the audience as the built-up anger inside Dr. Shirley is released.
This is by no means a perfect film or even “the” perfect road film for that matter. There are character interactions that seem to fizzle out of relevance in the story. We are introduced to the idea that Tony and the other members of Dr. Shirley’s trio Oleg (Dimitar D. Marinov) and George (Mike Hatton) also don’t get along at the start. But any sort of tension between these three stays at room temperature, there isn’t a sign of taking this idea one step further. I believe the film has a problem with this in general, there is a lot of friction that gets resolved way too quickly and you never see too much on the prolonged effect it has on the characters.
No film genre is dead in the water, it just needs a bit of CPR and what I hope from a brilliantly beautiful film like Green Book is that we get a surge of road films in the next few years. It is the main characters of Green Book and the people behind bringing these characters to life is what boost this film into legendary status. The sheer amount of care that has gone into the interactions, movements and setting is in full bloom. Initially, I had wanted A Star is Born for best picture as my dream scenario, I now have my safe bet in Green Book.
Final Result: 10/10 – Masterpiece
Have you seen Green Book? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
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