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Blu-ray Review: Green Book

When celebrated classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley embarks on a concert tour of the American South in 1962, he hires nightclub bouncer Tony Vallelonga to be his chauffeur and bodyguard. 

At the centre of the nightlife in New York City is the Copacabana where the top performers of the 1960s entertain the patrons.  Maintaining law and order as well as engaging in some mischievous antics is bouncer Tony ‘Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen).  Money is always tight for the Italian-American working-class family man and things are made even more difficult when nightclub shuts down for renovations.

An employment opportunity arises to be a driver for flamboyant and culturally refined musician Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) who is embarking on a tour of the American South.   It is an unlikely pairing of personalities brought together by necessity that is constantly tested as they travel through a region of America built upon racial segregation and bigotry.

Comparisons to Driving Miss Daisy with Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy is not without merit as racism serves as the backdrop to two individuals from completely different backgrounds developing a mutual respect of each other.   It was interesting to learn about the existence of the Green Book which in essence was a travel guide for black tourists in the American South.

No fault can be found in the performances of the two lead actors.  Mortenson has gained some serious weight for the role and is constantly eating which is simultaneously comic and awe-inspiring; he imbues an endearing sincerity into a character who could easily become a slapstick persona, in particular, when famous lines are misquoted.  Ali provides Shirley with a gravitas and vulnerability that at times is heartbreaking and a real nice touch is having his rage at the injustices being inflicted upon him permeating through the musical performances.

As much as the Ali and Mortenson have an undeniable onscreen chemistry, the story itself does not feel entirely organic but predictable as a list of story beats are checked off along the way.   The camera places the viewer in the middle of action but not in distracting handheld documentary manner which allows the attention to be entirely focused on the developing friendship between the two men.  As to whether the issue of racism is watered down in Green Book, sometimes the most dramatic and impactful moments are in the subtle indifferences that people have for one another.

For those interested in watching the Oscar-winner for Best Picture, Green Book is now available digitally on iTunes and Cineplex, and in stores on DVD, Blu-ray and 4k Ultra HD on March 12th.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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