Green Book ★★★★

Remarkably well-lit, framed, and focused, the superficial shine of Green Book hides its shallow ambition. I think it really works as a film, an acting showcase and a crowd pleaser, but it rarely transcends its stale message. 

Mortensen really eats this role up. He makes playing this oaf of a man look like it’s his permanent state of being, though any interview I’ve seen with Viggo reveals him to be a much more refined and shy individual, the polar opposite of this Bronx loudmouth. He’s a great character, perfectly acted, with some fine beats, but Farrelly lets the portrayal fall too “on the nose” for me to love him. And I’m skeptical that his real life counterpart is less controversial than portrayed here, but that’s part of the “based on a true story” preface, isn’t it?

Mahershala’s also performing at his peak, but not in such a showy way. What surprised me is how he takes the back seat (literally, sorry) to Mortensen’s Tony throughout the film, in nearly every scene. Mortensen is clearly the lead and Ali is the supporting actor. If the Academy recognizes him as such, he definitely has my vote. Very strong, powerful stuff from him, lots conveyed facially and gesturally that not just anyone can do.

Green Book moves along nicely. And it is a bit of a lay up, an easy crowd pleaser with not much artistic merit to it, but such films have a place and these performances justify the film enough. It’s a good story, a good film to throw in the pile with the other race-themed stories set in the 60s, and might be top-shelf for that sub genre. In any other Oscar race, I would wish for this to be beat out of the race for Best Picture, but I’m so underwhelmed by this year’s front runners that this in my top five of the year for sure. Let’s see how far it can go, why not?