Green Book: An acting masterclass, but a so-so movie

By Bradley Lane

Friends come in many shapes and sizes, often unexpectedly, and for better or worse they end up changing the course of our lives. Friends can come from anywhere: different cultures, different countries and many different walks of life. The best friendships end up shaping the people we become, challenging one another to be the best versions of ourselves. Watching a friendship between two polar opposite personalities is not exactly ground-breaking territory for Hollywood, but Green Book uses this dynamic to tell a flawed, but ultimately heartwarming and comedic story.

Green Book recounts the real-life tale of a friendship between famed African-American pianist Dr. Don Shirley and Italian tough guy Tony “Lip”. The film takes the perspective of Tony (Viggo Mortensen) as he seeks work in the off season of his usual security gig at the Copacabana. Tony gets turned onto a driving job by a friend and ends up being interviewed by Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) to drive for his concert tour of the deep south. Tony is introduced with racist tendencies and he resents even the idea of working for a person of color. Eventually he accepts the job and what follows is part road trip movie, part character study, and part allegorical narrative.

If not for anything else, Green Book is worth seeing for the masterful performances by its two leads, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. Both Mortensen and Ali bring so much depth and interest into their respective roles. Mortensen plays a loud-mouthed racist that has the incredibly difficult task of becoming a likable protagonist; he gives a charisma and clumsy charm to his role that, for the most part, accomplishes this impossible task. Ali, on the other hand, plays Shirley as a confident and collected man with hidden motivations, emotions and baggage. He clearly has the more difficult role in that Shirley is a much more reserved and introspective character. Ali adds a quiet vulnerability to his portrayal of an otherwise stoic character that demands to be recognized as one of the best performances of the year.

As for the presentation of Green Book, it’s fine, passable, if not a little boring. Shots in Green Book are usually bland and lifeless, save for beautifully shot landscapes of the southern countryside. Director Peter Farrelly plays it safe, visually as well as thematically. While this movie does dive into racial tensions during segregated America, it paints the issues as, excuse the pun, rather black and white. The discussion of these topics only truly scratches the surface of negative race relations in America, which requires a level of nuance above what is offered in Green Book. This, combined with an overbearing score, hold the film back from being something truly special.

If you want to see Green Book it should be for the on-screen chemistry between Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. 6/10.

Bradley is a Beech Grove High School Alumni and has been enamored by film for as long as he can remember. He is currently in his third year studying at IUPUI, majoring in Media and Public Affairs with a minor in Film. Bradley can be contacted at