Green Book is an uncommonly well-told tale of bodyguard Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and classically trained pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), thrown together on a concert tour through the Deep South in 1962. The year alone could explain why the black leader of an otherwise white jazz trio might require a bodyguard to accompany him, but from their first scene together, the quiet “uh-oh” grows. Dr. Donald Shirley was a child prodigy, Russia-trained, and imbued with a dignity that suffered under the shortening of his name to “Don” by his record label. He would not have appreciated being called a jazz musician either, as his compositions melded classical technique with popular tunes in a multitude of styles from blues to jazz to Liszt. The film’s greatest transformation comes from Viggo Mortensen, who put on 25 pounds before the film began and added another 20 while playing Tony Vallelonga, aka Tony Lip. The on-camera eating is beyond comical — the fried-chicken scene is priceless. His son Nick Vallelonga wrote the script, holding off until after Don Shirley had died, as requested. It’s a restraint that Green Book plays with so well that the usually blasé Santa Barbara film audience couldn’t help but erupt with applause at film’s end.
Patti Perret | 2018 Universal Studios
Uncommonly Well-Told Tale