Green Book by Nick Vallelonga
Nine out of 10
Green Book is one of the best films of the year, much superior to most of those selected for the Golden Globe awards – for example, in my humble opinion A Star is Born is not worth anything when compared with this excellent drama.
Viggo Mortensen, one of the best actors of the age and not just that, but one who decides to be engaged with projects that matter, have a meaning and would remain memorable, plays Tony Lip Vallelonga.
Mahershala Ali is outstanding, grandiose, sophisticated, majestic, towering, superior and human….exactly what his challenging part requires, the role of Doctor Don Shirley, a wonderful pianist
In the beginning, we watch Tony in his job at a nightclub, where he is a bouncer that takes out an annoying, insulting customer and beats him hard, but then he is out of a job, when the club is temporary closed.
This is very difficult for the hero and his wife, Dolores, and the American Italian has to take his watch to the pawnshop, to get forty dollars for it, given the financial straits in which he is.
When he refuses to work for dubious thugs, seemingly mobsters that wanted Tony to be engaged in illegal, violent activities, he receives an offer and has to go to meet with an unknown employer.
This is a strange character, dressed in the words of the simple Lip as “the king of the jungle”, sitting on a throne and offering the position of driver to the unemployed white man.
The money proposition is attractive, but when the sophisticated doctor mentions that he would have to take his luggage and shine his shoes, the proud bouncer stands up to refuse.
Before this meeting, we have seen two African American men in his house – he boasts about that in front of his prospective boss – but they were there to fix the plumbing or something else.
Even as he is financially stressed, the racist, intolerant Vallelonga takes the glasses the visitors had used and throws them in the trashcan, making more than plain his racial perspective.
The film is extraordinary as it follows the transformation of this uneducated individual and the dramatic change, from a man who could not use glasses after they had been in the hands of another race, into a very sensitive, good friend of the doctor.
As the rather primitive driver learns, Don Shirley is not a doctor in medicine, but he is the head of a trio, called the Don Shirley Trio, and he has organized a tour in the south, where he would perform as a special guest.
Since this is 1962, the Deep South still has segregation in place – indeed, as it would be explained by the Russian members of the trio, the main reason why Doc has taken this challenge is to make a point.
They are paid three times as much if they perform in the North, but Doctor Shirley wants to show bigoted, racist, rich men of the South that African Americans are not inferior, they are able to do things that white men cannot do.
The relationship between driver and pianist is more than difficult to begin with, given the lack of manners, education and any hint of style of the man who eats and throws trash on the road.
Doctor Shirley tries to educate the bouncer – granted, there is some precious advice coming the other way too – making him return to pick up the garbage, in a period when the norm was to care very little, if at all about that.
When they stop at a shop selling precious or semi-precious stones, jade and the like, Tony picks up one from near the stand, sitting on the ground and he is made to pay for it, which he does only after fierce opposition.
When the cultivated speaker of Russian, Italian and surely other languages sees the effort it takes the Italian American to write letters and the pale results, he helps with the composition.
The messages would have such a success that Dolores reads them to an audience of friends, husbands who are amazed at Shakespeare – this is what she would call the returning hero.
To his credit, Vallelonga is crucial in a few occasions, one when the Doc went to have a drink in a bar and he is beaten cruelly by white racists and is saved by the tough bullshit artist.
Another time, the pianist is caught having sex with another, white man and he is handcuffed and destined to be jailed, when The Lip talks to the police officers and bribes them.
True, the next time they have trouble with the law, it is because of the violent temper of the ex-bouncer, who is insulted by other racists, in uniform this time and he hits one of them.
From jail, the acclaimed musician, who has contacts at the highest echelons of power, but is abused, by local, racist cops and rich Southerners – they want to listen to his performance but want to make him use an outhouse and prevent him from eating in the restaurant where he would have to perform- calls Bobby Kennedy.
Green Book is a wondrous motion picture.