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Posted at: Dec 2, 2018, 1:55 AM; last updated: Dec 2, 2018, 1:55 AM (IST)

Road-trip buddy

Road-trip buddy

Navnee Likhi

American film director Peter Farrelly’s Green Book is based on the true story of two men — African-American classical pianist Dr Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, and Italian-American Tony Lip, played by Viggo Mortensen —  who happen to travel together from Manhattan to Deep South, and eventually became friends. The narrative of the film is set in the backdrop of racism in the 1960s South America. 

Complex insecurities trouble Don as he is often judged by the colour of his skin. His impeccable mannerisms and elegance enhance his credibility as a performer. Dr Don has to tour South to perform. He hires Tony Lip to serve him as his chauffeur and bodyguard. During their journey to South, the two men confront racism. Some situations they face are comical. Dr Don is an aloof, well educated man with several PhDs to his credit and is also a pianist, whereas Tony is a bouncer who lives in New York with his family. He is a sixth grade pass out, not particularly educated, is bold, brash and also a bit racist in his views. His loud gregarious nature leads him to absurd comical acts. 

The story unfolds with an afternoon scene of unexpected phone call Tony receives about a job offer. He agrees to meet Dr Don Shirley for an interview at his apartment, which is located above Cranegie Hall. Dr Don lives in splendour and interviews Tony sitting on a throne, wearing a white robe and gold jewellery. It doesn’t seem as if two would click. But Don insists on hiring Tony who looks to be tough and self-assured. Tony agrees to take up his offer with a fat paycheck. Don discusses with him the services Tony would have to provide and gives him tour itinerary. Don makes it clear to him that he will need muscle power on this trip. He also gives Tony Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide which offers tips on how to navigate racism on road, use of car service centers and of stay at safe places. At times, threats to their safety loom large in several situations in the film but it does not slip into any kind of despair.

The pair drives out of New York in a luxurious Cadillac car. Tony drives Don with puffed-out-sense of pride. Don sits comfortably in the backseat in an erect dignified way, showing Tony his place. As they are passing through Kentucky, Tony gets excited when he sees the KFC eating joint, Don doesn’t understand Tony’s excitement as he has never eaten fried chicken and Tony is surprised to  know this. Next scene shows Don trying  fried chicken for the first time. He asks Tony “What do we do with the bones?”

The two men form an unlikely bond. Don notices Tony’s endless chatter and fumbling as sincere attempts to connect himself with him as his boss. On his part, Don is a bit fussy during his interactions with Tony and much of the humour derives from Don’s disbelief that a person as uncouth as Tony exists in a civilised society. He watches Tony as he wolves down food and is, at times, sarcastic with him. Tony is sharp enough to know that he is being mocked at. As both converse with each other, Tony refers to racial stereotypes and African American Pop culture but he can’t figure out why Don feels uncomfortable at such moments. En route they encounter racist police in Mississippi, just moments after his applaudable performance before all American audiences. 

On several occasions, Tony jumps into action to save Don from various forms of  racist behaviour. Tony enters into a scuffle with an American police officer and punches him on his face. Both men are hauled up in jail and Don says to Tony, “You don’t win with violence, but you only win when you maintain your dignity.”

After one of his performances, Don is not permitted to dine at an American bar and Tony gets into a brawl with some American men. Don loses his cool and tells Tony, “If I am not black enough or if I am not white enough, tell me what am I?” As their car overheats and they stop, Dr Don is given quizzical looks by African Americans on seeing him being driven by an American. Dr Don is most amusing when he is  assisting Tony in writing a letter to his wife Dolores. Tony is self-conscious and shy while penning the letter. Don looks away at the insults he faces. Tony has a tendency to be offensive on his behalf and anxious of being associated with African American and the liberty he has as an American. All his sincere attempts deepen their friendship. They overcome their prejudices and accept one another as they are. 

Green Book doesn’t go beyond its protagonists’ relationship. There is a delicate balancing approach that makes the movie watchable, despite its serious subject. Both the characters grow as individuals and learn from one another. The cinematography by Sean Porter captures the innocence as well as toughness of the two characters and the opposite worlds they come from. 

Viggo Mortensen in the role of Tony as a don’t-mess-with-me kind of guy is enlivening. In the role of Dr Don Shirley, Mahershala Ali gives credible portrayal as an romantic, astute philosopher.  

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