Green Book is based on the real-life story of an unlikely friendship that forms between a gruff Italian from New York City, and a world-renowned African American pianist, during a time of segregation. Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) makes a living working as a bouncer at the Copa club, and as an occasional driver for a local mobster. Tony is a family man, with a wife (Linda Cardellini) and kids, but he and his friends are not the most progressive people. They often make racially insensitive jokes, and perpetuate certain racial stereotypes. One day Tony comes home to find his wife offering water to two negro repairmen working in his kitchen, and after they leave, he throws away the glasses that touched the men’s lips. While he doesn’t necessarily hate these men because of their skin color, it is just a prejudice that has become prevalent in his neighborhood’s culture.
When a fight breaks out at the Copa, and causes the club to shut down for a few months for repairs, Tony is in need of some work. He gambles a bit to get by, and is offered some illegal side work from his old boss, but Tony doesn’t really want to get involved in that line of work. So when he receives a notice that a man named Dr. Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali) wants to speak with him about job, he jumps at the chance. When Tony arrives at the Dr. Shirley’s luxury apartment above Carnegie Hall, he discovers that the man is a professional pianist who will be going on a two-month concert tour with his musical trio through the Deep South. Dr. Shirley says that he is in need of driver who can take care of any issues that might arise during the trip, and that Tony was recommended in this regard. However, when Donald also suggests that Tony would need to serve as his valet, Tony feels insulted and refuses to do his laundry or shine his shoes. The men ultimately come to an agreement that Tony will only serve as his driver.
As the strangers get ready to embark on their two month road trip, the record company representatives hand Tony a copy of “The Negro Motorists’ Green Book For a Vacation Without Aggravation”, a guide book to hotels, restaurants, etc. that are safe for people of color. As they drive off, Tony and Donald quickly realize that they have very different personalities. Tony is more laid back, likes to talk and eat a lot, and is very rough around the edges, telling it like it is with a his simpler, more colorful language. Tony is a bit uncultured—he constantly refers to Russia when talking about the other two members of the musical trio, even though the men are German, not Russian. Meanwhile, Donald is much more buttoned-up and refined. He has traveled the world, likes things neat and tidy, planned out, and done a certain way. He also appreciates the use of proper grammar and vocabulary, and is constantly correcting Tony’s diction.
Going into the trip, both men had preconceived notions of one another, but as the weeks go by, the barriers between them start to fall apart as they really get to know one another. Donald first sees Tony as this uncultured, ignorant buffoon with poor diction and a propensity to steal. Over the course of the trip, Donald helps Tony become a little more refined, assisting him with his vocabulary and helping him to write better love letters to his wife back home. Donald discovers that Tony is a loving, caring man, who is genuinely interested in helping others. He also proves to be quite intelligent in other ways, with a wide variety of useful life skills.
Meanwhile, Tony learns that Donald is this cultured man who does’t fit his stereotypes of a typical black man. He realizes that Donald is a lonely man struggling with his identity. So Tony helps Donald loosen up and relax a bit, and helps him find what truly makes him happy. Tony’s eyes are also opened up to the horrible, dangerous, and unfair world that is out there for people of color—at the same time that these white Southerners are opening their homes to Dr. Shirley and praising him for his music, they also treat him like a second class citizen, not allowing him to eat in their club dining rooms, or sending him to an out house when he needs to use the restroom.
Green Book was this year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, and I was really happy that it did—it was certainly one of the more enjoyable nominees. The film tells a beautiful story of love, friendship and acceptance, and it does so not only with a lot of humor but also with some thought-provoking drama. The film does an excellent job of showing how this real-life friendship that lasted for over 50 years came about, and how these men changed each others lives for the better. Tony and and Donald were able to put aside their preconceived notions, and were able to learn from one another. The performances are excellent—it was surprising to see that Mahershala Ali was considered a supporting actor for the film as both men are equally the main star. Viggo Mortensen is hilarious as the often-oblivious, but kind-hearted Tony. His accent sounds quite natural, and I don’t know where he put all that food Tony eats, but it was so much fun to watch. Mahershala Ali also delivers a stellar performance, including both deadpan comedy, but also some really raw and emotional moments.
Universal’s 4K Ultra HD release provides solid picture and sound. While the Blu-ray disc looks excellent on its own, the 4K release shows a noticeable uptick in clarity and detail, especially in clothing and other textures. The HDR provides an enhanced color palette that is particularly noticeable in the brighter daytime scenes. The film is filled with excellent music, and the disc’s Dolby Atmos soundtrack not only captures the Donald’s concert performances beautifully, but also provides a generally-immersive experience throughout the film, whether it be the sounds of the audience, a bar crowd, or the general city atmosphere. The use of the overhead channel is especially noticeable when the men are driving through a strong rain storm on their way to Birmingham.
The 4K Ultra HD release comes packed in standard UHD keepcase with a slipcover, and contains an insert with a code to redeem for a 4K Movies Anywhere digital copy of the film. Both the 4K and the Blu-ray discs contain the same small selection of bonus material—three short 4-5 minute behind-the-scenes featurettes with the cast and filmmakers.
4K Ultra HD:
- 2160p / Widescreen 2.00:1
- Audio: English Dolby Atmos, French 5.1 DTS Digital Surround
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
- 1080p / Widescreen 2.00:1
- Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Descriptive Video Service, French 5.1 DTS Digital Surround
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
- 4K Digital copy redeemable via Movies Anywhere
Digital (for redemption deadline, see NBCUcodes.com):
All bonus material can be found on both the 4K Ultra HD disc and the Blu-ray disc.
- Virtuoso Performances (4:10)
The cast and filmmakers talk about the story, characters and performances. Includes behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with director/co-writer/producer Peter Farrelly, co-writer Brian Currie, executive producers Kwame L. Parker & Octavia Spencer, co-writer/producer Nick Vallelonga, composer Kris Bowers, and stars Mahershala Ali (“Dr. Donald Shirley”), Viggo Mortensen (“Tony Lip”) & Linda Cardellini (“Dolores”).
- An Unforgettable Friendship (5:09)
The cast and filmmakers talk about the recordings, letters and conversations that served as source material for the film’s story. They also discuss the use of music in the film. Includes interviews with director/co-writer/producer Peter Farrelly, co-writer/producer Nick Vallelonga, executive producer Octavia Spencer, and stars Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen & Linda Cardellini.
- Going Beyond the Green Book (4:20)
The cast and filmmakers talk about the titular Green Book, its author, and the state of racial segregation in the 1960s. Includes interviews with executive producer Octavia Spencer, director of the African American Culture Heritage Fund Brent Leggs, director/co-writer/producer Peter Farrelly, author/photographer Candacy Taylor, and star Mahershala Ali & Viggo Mortensen.
Green Book is a heartwarming, fun, and at moments eye-opening film about an unlikely friendship that forms once two strangers dispel their preconceived notions of one another over the course of a 2-month road trip. Universal’s 4K release provides excellent picture and sound, but is a little disappointing when it comes to the bonus material—just under 13 minutes of featurettes. However, based on the film alone, this release comes highly recommended—it is one of the few recent Best Picture winners that I can honestly say that I really enjoyed and would watch again.