Review: Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali Deliver Transcendent Performances in Feel-Good Oscar Contender, 'Green Book'

Charlie McKenna ’22 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Pop quiz: what does Green Book have in common with Dumb and Dumber, Hall Pass and Stuck on You? Most would say nothing, and that’s a fair assessment, as the last three films are all dumb, broad comedies and Green Book is a heartfelt, self-contained story about the relationship between two men. Yet, as all four of these films are directed by the same man, Peter Farrelly, it’s a strange turn in Farrelly’s career as this is really the first dramatic work he’s ever done.
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali star in this film, which follows Mortensen’s Tony Lip, an Italian bouncer from the Bronx, who is enlisted to drive Ali’s Don Shirley, a renowned classical pianist, through his tour of the south.
Green Book features Mortensen and Ali at the absolute peak of their powers as actors. Both deliver Oscar-caliber work in the film and their relationship and the believability of it and their characters is what really makes the film sing. Mortensen is totally transformed as Tony and it’s clear who this character is from the first moment the audience meets him.

Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen in Green Book. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.
Tony and Don are the exceptions to the rule in Hollywood nowadays. Lost in the era of franchise films and remakes are real characters. Sure, the people on screen in these bigger budget movies have arcs, but the audience isn’t connected to them in the same way they are to characters who feel like real human beings. That’s where the success of Green Book lies. The fact that the film features two characters who leap off the screen and drag you back in with them is remarkable. From the minute you meet these characters it’s impossible to not to feel for them and. by the end, totally understand them.
Ali is exceptional as well and should be the front-runner for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars, he is that great. Don is a far more complex character than Tony and Ali delivers each and every one of Don’s layers to the audience on a silver platter.
It’s a shame that the film spends so much time with Tony because, while Mortensen’s performance is excellent, and his arc is the film the one wants the audience to care about, Don is the more interesting character. From the minute he’s introduced it feels as though there’s so much more under the surface with Don and the film doesn’t really explore it because it wants to show Tony learning about the indignities of the Jim Crow-era South.
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.
Green Book is well directed by Farrelly but it isn’t particularly interesting from a visual perspective. This is not an innovatively directed film in any sense of the word, Farrelly isn’t trying to wow the audience but rather serve as a guide along this story. This style certainly doesn’t hinder the film but, in another director’s hands, this could’ve been a tremendously visually compelling film.
Ultimately, Green Book serves as an excellent feel-good film for the holidays. It’s an average film bolstered by two incredible performances from Mortensen and Ali that lift this film from average to excellent. It is certainly the cliched white man learns about race from a black man movie but doesn’t solely rely on this trope as it’s not as though Don doesn’t learn anything throughout the course of the film. There are a few scenes that feel slightly shoehorned in to reinforce the narrative about race the film would like to present but they don’t distract from the quality of the film. Green Book is surprisingly funny throughout and the Tony/Don dynamic adds a lot of comedy to a relatively serious topic.
Green Book is a politically charged film at its core and there are certainly scenes where it seems Farrelly has injected his own views into the film. It is annoying while it happens but the film is so engrossing that it leaves the viewer’s mind quickly.
Overall Grade: A-
Note from the author: It is worth noting that Mortensen used the N-word during a press event for the film last week and it’s difficult not to have that knowledge color your experience of the film. As a critic, there is the inevitable question of separating the art from the artist and when to or not to do so. It’s an impossible question with no correct answer.
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