'Green Book', starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, examines racism, segregation - and an unlikely friendship [Movie Review]

Based on the lives of pianist Dr Don Shirley and his New Yorker driver, Tony Lip, the film is a reminder of the evils of prejudice, and the power of courage

Kelly Fung |

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Viggo Mortensen (left) and Mahershala Ali star in this film based on a true story.

Set in 1962 United States, Green Book focuses on the severe racism in the country at the time, and the unlikely friendship between two men. 

The film is based on the true story of famous black pianist Dr Don Shirley (Oscar winner Mahershala Ali), and his driver and bodyguard, the uneducated and uncouth Italian-American Frank Anthony Vallelonga, aka Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), who was known for his tact and the ability to settle disputes. He was also a racist.

Despite the threat of their totally different personalities clashing, the two embark on a concert tour of the Deep South. As discrimination rears its ugly head, the enormous gap between the two starts to narrow.

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The film’s title comes from The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide for black Americans which listed the motels and restaurants which would accept them. It is also a brutal reminder of the prejudice faced by non-white people in the 1960s: even the world-class pianist is treated like dirt once he steps off the stage.

Ali and Viggo both do a brilliant job of bringing their characters to life. Viggo is utterly believable as the uncultured, simple-hearted man, while Ali shines as the elegant, resilient Shirley. It is also entertaining to see the chemistry between the two, and how they are gradually influenced by each other during the road trip. Besides reaching a mutual understanding, it is a life-changing journey that bridges racial and cultural divides between the duo and eventually, restores their identities.

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What is particularly rewarding is how the film depicts the helplessness and dehumanisation faced by non-white Americans, in a modest way, yet one which stays vividly in the audience’s mind.

Green Book is captivating and enlightening. It reminds us that humanity should not be segmented, and that, with courage, we can change people’s hearts.