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Saturday, September 28, 2019

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[Review] Green Book (2018)

"You never win with violence, Tony. You only win when you maintain your dignity." - Dr. Don Shirley

Green Book plays like most movies that tackle racism from the past, an undeniably sugary, feel-good drama that everyone can’t help but adore. That’s true for many reasons. Bearing many resemblances from Driving Miss Daisy, its concept is pretty much paint-by-number: a portrayal of two polar opposites dealing with unfortunate ‘events’ that come along the way. This time, the roles are reversed with our two leads, Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, taking us to a road trip bound to be bumpy and affecting. Mortensen’s Tony, with a paunch and a Bronx accent, is high-octane in his laid-back, carefree demeanor, flaunting his singularity every time those boastful talks come out of his mouth. Ali’s Don is anything but that: he’s a stoic, one that endures the long-suffering strain of being a nonconformist in his own world and the other. Reserved, detached, and deemed too sophisticated, yet portrayed with such gravity that he defines his own charm, Ali delivers what may well be his best performance to date. Put them both in one frame, and the result is as spellbinding as ever. Fueled by their warmth, humor, and strength, it’s one of those fiery dynamics that keeps us engaged, hitting most of its highly pleasing notes without even breaking a sweat.
Still, even when the dynamic duo’s effortless presence operates at a pristine level, the narrative sadly doesn’t. As funny and as delightful as it is, Green Book never walks out of its well-trodden territory with its chin up. Addressing racism is never easy, and in a year of BlacKkKlansman, Blindspotting, and The Hate U Give, Green Book shies away from tackling it right. It does try, though, but instead of plunging deeper to confront its subject, Green Book simply squishes through the swampy mud, drenched in it yet never gutsy enough to penetrate. Anchoring too much to their magnetic relationship might be their strongest and weakest link, as it eventually dwarves its already outward, simplified display of racism and disenfranchisement. In the end, Green Book does appear to be another case of Driving Miss Daisy: a flattening of history that pleases both sides, which works really well in that regard, a fairly typical Hollywood effort that doesn’t have anything to write home about, yet offers you a real good time that rarely any film does. Well-intentioned and endearing through and through, Green Book’s approach to its sensitive topics may be too clean-shaven and confusing at times, but its two formidable, dazzling stars still manage to overcome its rather passive outcome, as they’ll laugh, struggle, and cheer with you.

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