Thursday, December 6, 2018
Mahershala Ali could not have chosen a better follow-up role. After earning a well-deserved Supporting Actor Oscar for Moonlight two years ago, the versatile Ali tries something completely different in Green Book. It's a serious-minded, yet entertaining view of racism in the American South, ca 1962, as experienced by a working-class white Italian-American guy from Brooklyn hired to drive a cultured black pianist on a concert tour through the Deep South.
Directed by Peter Farrelly (one half of the filmmaking brothers responsible for notorious comedies like There's Something About Mary), the movie is based on a true story. Its portrait of century-old racist attitudes still so deeply ingrained everyday life could be (and often is) chilling.
But the movie succeeds on the chemistry between its excellent stars, Ali as the reserved, morally particular pianist, and Viggo Mortensen as his gregarious, tough guy driver, forging a hard-won alliance against institutional racism and their own personal prejudices.
Farrelly trots out all the usual suspects — sneering Southern cops, smarmy, white hoteliers, shifty black thieves at a rollicking roadhouse. (He trades in equal-opportunity stereotypes.) But the movie glides by on cruise control, thanks to its charismatic stars.
Ali, with his killer grin, looks about a foot taller and way more willowy than he did in Moonlight. Mortensen impresses with his edgy, good-humored chutzpah and capacity to grow his character. Together, they make this a trip worth taking.