Sunday, 28 July 2019

Green Book ★★★☆☆


Another year, another Best Picture winner. But as with every year, a few months since the win, does anyone care anymore? Is anybody still talking about Green Book? Easily one of the most controversial wins in the history of the Academy Awards – a win that caused Spike Lee to jump out of his seat and attempt to leave the ceremony in disgust – this one is certainly infamous. Let’s take one last look at Green Book before it is lost forever in the annals of cinema history, destined for a lifetime of being a pub quiz trivia answer that absolutely bloody nobody will be able to remember.


The film follows Tony ‘Lip’, a bouncer from an Italian-American neighbourhood in the Bronx, and the time when he was hired to drive Dr Don Shirley, a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South. On their journey, they must rely on "The Green Book" to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism and danger - as well as unexpected humanity and humour - they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime. So, yeah, on the surface, it’s already not exactly original. But the lack of originality here is not the issue.

The issue with Green Book is just how much it perpetuates the white saviour narrative trope to a point that almost feels like a parody. The film makes a hero with a heart of gold out of Tony ‘Lip’, and it’s no surprise whatsoever that this film is written by the real-life Tony’s son. This is a “Look how amazing my dad was” film through-and-through, despite many reports to the contrary that in actual fact, a friendship between him and Don never blossomed and he remained a racist. I don’t know if that’s true – I wasn’t there – but a lot of people, including Don’s family, came forward to confirm this. It doesn’t surprise me. This is Hollywood, after all. Never let the facts get in the way of a good, heart-warming white story! 

One thing that cannot be argued with is the acting power of the two lead actors. Both Viggo Mortensen (Tony) and Mahershala Ali (Don) put in powerhouse performances and have a chemistry between them that cannot be denied. Scenes between the two characters as they bicker in the car over food, music, history and other subjects are great – mixing comedy and drama wonderfully. It’s just a shame they never bloody happened. The whole film around these performances reeks of a missed opportunity – with such incredible work from the cast, it’s such a shame that a better final product was not crafted around them. Instead, we are left with a frustratingly underwhelming, overly sanitised and downright predictable ‘true’ story that continues an upsetting trend of the white saviour.


In a year that also gave us BlacKkKlansman, it’s simply criminal that this film won all the accolades and public appreciation – I guess that’s down to the fact it’s a much more easily digestible, dumbed down and accessible portrayal of the period to be spoon-fed to the masses. But crucially, it is offensively sanitised and downright inaccurate, shitting all over what was a very harrowing period and turning it into a feel-good comedy. But again, I haven’t a bad word to say about the two leads. As such, Green Book hits the road with a very generous.

★★★☆☆
Sam Love

Green Book at CeX


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