There is a scene in “Green Book” where we first see Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight,” “Hidden Figures”) play piano and it’s a beautiful thing to watch because you believe every note and nuance of the music is coming from him personally. That is acting, and that’s what happens when good films are made on a higher level. Mahershala also practiced for months.
Dr. Don Shirley (Ali) is a lonely, meticulous jazz musician who lives in an elaborate Manhattan apartment with a butler above Carnegie Hall. He decides to tour the Jim Crowe South in 1962 and hires an out-of-work Italian from the Bronx to be his chauffeur, played equally compelling by Viggo Mortensen (“Captain Fantastic,” “The Lord of The Rings”).
Their two month road trip is as much about each other as it is about their racist surroundings with the title referring to the “Green Book” guide given to African Americans traveling in the segregated south, informing them where they are allowed to sleep and eat.
What elevates this seemingly formula film is what happens between the obvious confrontations with locals who love the music but hate the musician. Here are two actors working at the top of their craft and by the end of “Green Book,” the feeling is one of cinematic satisfaction because these are not clichés, these are human beings.
Unlikely is director Peter Farrelly (“Dumb &Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary”), known for raunchy slapstick comedy, but here he handles every scene with empathy regarding his main characters.
He is not trying to re-invent “Driving Miss Daisy,” but both gentlemen have a lot to learn about the way the world works and Farrelly handles their journey with entertaining intelligence.
And then there’s the music by Kris Bowers, who composed the score and played the piano riffs Ali mimicked so well in the film, all transcribed from Shirley’s original 1960s recordings. They are beautiful to hear and watch.
“Green Book” is the result of artists working together to elevate buddy material while sending a loud and clear message against racism.
It’s a film that showcases a healing music score, and at the end of the day a family dinner in the Bronx that proves we all have a lot in common.