“He is becoming the new Denzel,” my wife told me as we watched Mahershala Ali star in the new season of True Detective on HBO this past week. I hadn’t really thought of that prior to her mentioning it, but she is absolutely right. Ali is blooming in front of our eyes.
From stealing the show and consequently winning an Oscar despite a small amount of screen time in Moonlight back in 2017, to co-starring this year in yet another film bursting with Oscar buzz, Green Book. Ali is the most recent example of an actor becoming a late bloomer and transitioning from one of those “that was the guy from (insert movie here)” actors into an A-list headliner.
Green Book also stars Viggo Mortensen, an actor who has steadily proven to be one of Hollywood’s most underrated leading men. Mortensen has successfully gone through a little bit of a career renaissance recently himself, piggybacking this role off his last movie, Captain Fantastic, which landed him a Best Actor Oscar nomination in 2017.
Director Peter Farrelly was truly fortunate for landing such incredible actors to play such incredible characters in this film. Ali plays Dr. Don Shirley, a black, classical musician who is starting a musical excursion into the deep South. Mortensen, mob-tied Italian bodyguard named Tony Lip (they called him Tony “Lip” because he couldn’t shut up), is hired to be Shirley’s protection as he tours and performs in an area of the country notorious for racism and bigotry.
The contrast between Shirley and Tony is organically comical. It also naturally leads to endless possibilities for character depth and development, which Farrelly took full advantage of in his exceptional screenplay.
While on the subject of Peter Farrelly, I can’t believe that this is the same man who made such mindless, yet hilarious, films such as Hall Pass, Shallow Hal, There’s Something About Mary, and all three of the Dumb and Dumber films. It is amazing that someone who wrote and directed those films, while fun and classic in their own rights, would go on to write and direct such an incredible story with a powerful lesson, while sticking to his comedic roots.
I can’t flatter Farrelly enough for writing such a wonderful screenplay – one absolutely worthy of an Oscar nomination. I must admit, though, because of his past works, thinking of Farrelly being nominated for an Oscar is as shocking and unexpected as watching snow fall in Hollywood.
While there are several funny moments throughout Green Book, the story doesn’t ever lose grip of its soul. It has a powerful message of overcoming prejudice and injustice, while telling a heartwarming story of a true friendship – a friendship that grew almost directly as a result of two men’s diverse natures as people, both inside and out.
The brilliant true story of Green Book brought out the best in Ali and Mortensen, as they were each individually excellent. Their excellence parlayed into a perfect tandem on-screen. It would be no surprise to see both actors appropriately rewarded with Oscar nominations. The same goes for Farrelly, whose script was one of the best this year.
The only thing I don’t understand is why Ali is not considered the main actor in the film. Throughout the awards season, he has been put into the supporting actor category, while Mortensen has been in the main actor slot. I feel like this should be reversed. Although the story was told and co-written by Tony’s son, Nick Vallelonga, there would be no story originally had it not been for Dr. Shirley hiring his father to be his road manager/bodyguard. Most of the key points in the film are a direct result of experiences Dr. Shirley had to endure. The movie seems to naturally revolve more around Shirley than Tony.
On a side note, after watching Green Book, it makes you feel a little better about where we are in American society 50 years later. Of course, we still have a ways to go, but we have come a long way as well. The fact that the packed movie theater where I watched it was filled by approximately 85 percent white people (probably 60 percent of them were over age 60). This is the type of movie easy for an older generation of white America to ignore, as it shows the flaws their generation had in specifically dealing with racial injustice during the Civil Rights movement. For a lot of them to sit there for over two hours and stare at an ugly part of our history, spawned by friends and family of yesteryear is absolutely commendable and encouraging to see as a person of color myself.
With that being said, Green Book is a great film. In fact, I may go as far as to say it’s the best film I have seen from this past year to this point. It checks off all the boxes for the criteria of a great film – it is well-shot, has exceptional acting, tells a great story, and has a screenplay that embraces the audience and doesn’t let go.
MATTER RATING: 9/10
OSCAR SCALE: 10/10 (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Screenplay)
BY: CHRIS GUEST