Green Book follows the true story of the world class African-American Pianist, Doctor Don Shirley and his driver Tony Vallelonga. This movie was set in the early 1960s, where segregation was very much prominent, however, Green Book is more than just a racial movie. It’s about a true friendship and bond you never saw coming turning out to be greater than ever imagined.
Mahershala Ali (who won a Golden Globe for this film) plays Doctor Don Shirley, a sophisticated and well cultured gentleman. Doctor Shirley’s driver, Tony Vallelonga, is played by Viggo Mortensen. Tony is a tough talking bouncer from the Bronx who takes up the job to drive Doctor Shirley to the deep south to protect him.
Green Book is a funny, moving and inspiring film which serves to remind us that navigating race relations isn’t a black and white issue, and hammers in the timeless message of mutual respect regardless of skin colour. It is also inspiring in the sense of seeing Doctor Shirley continuing to be a courageous and honourable man even in the midst of severe racism, making Tony question why and how he does what he does. The film also serves as a reminder that changing people’s hearts is almost never easy, especially after years of embedded racism. However, through the perseverance and patience of Doctor Shirley, he was able to change at least one person’s heart for the better: Tony’s.
In the film we only really see the outer layer of Doctor Shirley and we know he’s dealing with a lot of issues. It is heavily emphasised that he uses alcohol as a means to deal with his pain, regularly seen with his favourite bottle of Cutty Sark. Music serves as an outlet for his feelings, and even with this, he is only seen smiling once, while playing at an African-American bar. The film also highlights his struggles with fitting in within the black community, and deals with the discomfort of feeling neither black or white enough. This theme was also emphasised further by the strange looks he received when he entered the bar. The biopic leaves some questions to be answered, especially concerning his relationships with his wife and brother, and was a little lacking in detail in some spots, but does a decent job when considering the fact that it attempts the difficult task of summarising a man’s life into a two hour long film.
All in all, the story of Doctor Shirley and Tony Vallelonga is a truly interesting tale that needed to be told. It is well balanced between drama and comedy, and Mahershala Ali absolutely shines in the lead role. Doctor Shirley was an icon in his field, and demolished racial barriers and records, going down in history as the first African-American to play in Deep South states. A man of his achievements deserves to have his story told. I’m glad it finally was.