Green Book (2018): Peter Farrelly’s Feel-Good Movie, Starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Oscar-Caliber Performances

Mahershala Ali, the talented Supporting Actor Oscar winner for the 2016 Moonlight, which also won Best Picture, has another shot at the Oscars this year, albeit in a vastly different role.

From drug dealer to artist: In Green Book, directed by Pater Farrelly, 0ne half of the brothers team, responsible for such R-rated comedies as “There’s Something Wonderful about Mary,” he plays a black world class pianist.

Ali said that he “immersed” himself in the real-life character’s music and researched all the material he could get in order to be “fully equipped” for the challenging role.

The film is inspired by a true story of Dr. Don Shirley (played by Ali), a world-class African-American (Jamaican) pianist who hires a tough-talking New York bouncer from the Bronx, Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), to be his driver and security guard as he sets out on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962. (Note: The Shirley’s family has expressed its concerns with the liberties that the movie has taken with the “real facts”).

The sharply observed, multi-nuanced screenplay was written by Tony Vallelonga’s son, Nick Vallelonga, alongside with Farrelly and Brian Hayes Currie.

The film’s title derives from The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook for African-American roadtrippers, written by Victor Hugo Green.

World premiering at the 2018 Toronto Film Fest to great acclaim, Green Book is already touted in town as Driving Miss Daisy in reverse, flipping the race and gender of the two protagonists.

That 1989 movie, directed by Bruce Beresford (who was snubbed by the Academy voters), starred Jessica Tandy, as an old bossy Jewish white woman, and Morgan Freeman, as her younger and obedient black chauffeur and loyal friend.  Driving Miss Daisy won the Best Picture Oscar as well as Best Actress for Tandy.

The two men bond and become close despite their differences attributes and despite living in an era of racial segregation, just before the Civil Rights Movement.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Green Book
A white man at the wheel of an aqua blue car, his elbow resting on the door. An African American sits in the back seat, arms outstretched.

Theatrical release poster

“What’s so beautiful about it is these two gentlemen are just so different,” Ali said. “They couldn’t be more different and they actually remain different, but there’s so much that is revealed about themselves and they’re so open and they listen to each other in such a wonderful way that they end up becoming like really close friends and allies.”

In order to get into Dr. Shirley’s head, Ali researched his mannerisms through documentaries, listened to old recordings and “immersed” himself in his music.

“I equipped myself as best I could with the materials that I needed in order to really try to capture his essence and do justice to this moment in time,” the actor said.

Ali was inspired by a documentary called “Little Bohemia,” about the artists that lived above Carnegie Hall that “Dr. Shirley appears in several times.”

“I was able to pull from that and sort of get a sense of his gestures and his rhythm and his speech and posture and how he played the piano. So I had that to lean on a bit,” he said.

The Oscar-winning actor has dabbled with rap in the past and said he’s now “working on something for a project associated specifically with the film.”

But he doesn’t consider an alternate career in music: “In terms of pursuing a career and doing it and releasing music on a regular basis, the answer is no.”

Known for his meticulous preparation for each role he plays, Ali notes: “I m doing it for my work as an actor on this picture, if I’m working on something, I have been working on it for two years.”

Green Book opens in limited release Friday, November 16, before hitting theaters nationwide Wednesday, November 21.


Directed by Peter Farrelly
Written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly

Produced by Jim Burke, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga, Charles B. Wessler

Cinematography Sean Porter
Edited by Patrick J. Don Vito
Music by Kris Bowers

Production companies: Participant Media; DreamWorks;
Innisfree Pictures; Cinetic Media; Alibaba Pictures

Distributed by Universal Pictures

Release dates: Sept 11, 2018 (TIFF); Nov 16, 2018 (US)

Running time: 130 minutes
Budget $23 million
Box office $321.8 million

End Note:

As predicted by me and others, Green Book won the Best Picture Oscar (its toughest competition came from Alfonso Cuaron’s Mexican-set, Spanish-language film, Roma, which three important Oscars: Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film.