The Critical Eye Reviews Green Book


Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

Written by Jesse Herzog, Movie Critic

Green Book is a car ride through the Deep South of the 1960s, following the relationship between African-American musical genius Dr. Don Shirley and his driver, Italian-American club bouncer Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. Facing controversy over a possibly less-than-accurate depiction of the true story, as well as over the role of Shirley whose “sole purpose in the film was to change a white man for the better” (, Green Book divides audiences. For the purpose of this review however, I will be considering the film for what it was meant to be–a celebration of the courageous actions of Dr. Shirley, and the effect of these actions. The film doesn’t focus on the broad impact of these actions–for instance, changing the behavior of southern bigots–but rather the profound and personal impact on a man from New York named Tony.

Evocative. That’s word of the day for the 2019 Academy Award-winner of Best Picture Green Book, written and directed by Peter Farrelly (who, along with Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie, also won for Best Screenplay.) The film evokes emotion in every scene, from laughter at the contrasting personalities of main characters Tony Vallelonga and Dr. Don Shirley, to astonishment at the prejudice rife within the Deep South of the 1960s. The film also relies on another form of evocation–within the minds of the audience. Never in the film does Dr. Shirley state his true objective–to transform the hearts and minds of Southerners through music. The audience must infer Shirley’s purpose throughout the film. The only moment the audience receives a glimpse of Shirley’s goal is when it is partially revealed by his cello player: “It takes courage to change people’s hearts.” So, the writers masterfully portray a profound message in the most subtle of ways.

With brilliant performances by leads Viggo Mortensen (nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role as Tony Vallelonga) and Mahershala Ali (winner for Best Actor in a Supporting Role as Dr. Don Shirley), Green Book provides a dark, horrifying look at the segregated South, while maintaining an uplifting tone, accomplished by placing the burgeoning friendship of two unlikely partners in a setting of hostile prejudice. Sometimes a small stage, like a simple tandem drive through the South, can reveal large truths.