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Wednesday 24 April 2019

Mortensen and Ali a great double-act in life-affirming comedy drama

Film review: Green Book (12A), 8.5/10

Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as Frank Vallelonga in Green Book
Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as Frank Vallelonga in Green Book

Inspired by a real-life friendship, Green Book is a life-affirming comedy drama which follows the tyre prints of Driving Miss Daisy to spark mutual appreciation between a chauffeur and his back-seat employer.

In the case of Peter Farrelly's charming picture, the lead characters - an Italian-American bouncer and a black pianist - stand on opposite sides of a racial divide at a time when American motels and restaurants could segregate or exclude clientele based on the colour of their skin.

The script co-written by Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie fine-tunes conflict between the two men during an eight-week pre-Christmas concert tour, which screeches from the bright lights of New York City to the Mississippi Delta.

Viggo Mortensen gained 45lbs to convincingly portray his brutish family man, who happily devours a bucket of fried chicken behind the wheel of a rented Cadillac, tossing gnawed bones out of the driver's window.

Oscar-winning co-star Mahershala Ali walks a tightrope of repressed emotions as his mannered musician tentatively rewrites the soundtrack to a conflicted life.

Both actors are handsomely cast, exposing chinks in their characters' brittle armour as they confront insecurities far from home.

Frank 'Tony Lip' Vallelonga (Mortensen) is a bouncer at the Copacabana nightclub on East 60th Street in 1962 New York City.

Charming in a rough-hewn manner when he needs to be, Tony isn't afraid to use his fists to silence fiery-tempered patrons.

Each night, Tony returns to a one-bedroom apartment, where he snuggles with adoring wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and their two children, Nick and Frankie.

During the winter, the club is closed for renovations ahead of the arrival of Sammy Davis Jr, so Frank accepts an offer from refined pianist Don Shirley (Ali) to chauffeur him on an eight-week tour that will take in Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Don will be accompanied at these concerts by cellist Oleg Malakhov (Dimiter Marinov) and double bassist George Dyer (Mike Hatton).

'You going through the Deep South... there's gonna be problems,' Tony tells his beautifully tailored employer.

Tony and Don initially clash but as the tour gathers momentum, they learn valuable life lessons from each other.

'You don't win with violence, Tony,' the pianist admonishes his hulking protector. 'You win when you maintain your dignity.'.

Green Book makes exceedingly light work of a 130-minute running time, deftly juggling heart-tugging drama and culture-clash comedy.

Mortensen and Ali are a delightful double-act and Cardellini offers compelling support as the proud spouse, who makes her embarrassed husband promise to 'write me a letter every chance you get'.

He obliges and Farrelly's picture pens its own love letter to the endurance of the embattled human spirit that we savour with tears of contentment in our eyes.

Wexford People

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