Green Book is based on the true story of an unlikely friendship between two men: a cultured black concert pianist and a rough-as-guts bouncer from the Bronx.
The pianist, Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), wants to embark on a two-month tour of the southern United States but it is 1962 and he is well aware that this could be a dangerous proposition.
So he hires tough, fast-talking Tony Vallegonga (Viggo Mortensen), as his driver and bodyguard.
The film’s name comes from the infamous Negro Motorist Green Book, an annual guidebook which listed safe establishments where Afro-Americans could stay and eat.
Green Book is billed as a comedy but it has surprising depth and understanding – a simple story transformed into an Oscar-worthy film because of the superb performances by Ali and Mortensen.
As they leave New York the aristocratic musician takes his place in the back seat of the car and makes it clear that he expects the uncouth chauffeur to keep his place.
Gradually as the trip unfolds the odd pair learn to appreciate the differences in each other.
Tony introduces “Doc” to Kentuckey fried chicken – in Kentucky, of course. Shirley helps Tony write beautiful love letters to his wife.
Tony comes to Shirley’s rescue after he gets beaten up in a public bar. “From now on you don’t go nowhere without me,” he insists.
It is shocking when the elegant black man is barred from the dining room at the luxurious establishment where his trio is performing.
He protests to the manager: “This gentleman says I’m not permitted to dine here?”
The manager is unmoved: “I’m afraid not,” he says.
The bejewelled patrons, who have paid top dollar to watch Shirley play that night, look up from their tables without blinking an eye, let alone making a protest.
As they tour through the south the “Coloureds Only” signs start to appear and Tony questions why his boss would put himself into such difficult situations.
“It takes courage to change people’s minds,” says Shirley.
They drive past a cornfield a group of black labourers, who stop work and look curiously at the odd spectacle of a black man in the back seat of a limousine being chauffeured by a white.
Then Shirley is cut to the quick when Tony argues that because of his family’s struggle for survival in the Bronx “I am way more blacker than you.”
Shirley stops the car and storms off in the rain. “I’m not black enough; I’m not white enough. Tell me, what am I?” he cries.
After the tour Don Shirley and Tony Vallegonga maintained their friendship until they both died in 1913.
Tony’s son Nick Vallegonga wrote the script for Green Book, together with Brian Currie and the film’s director Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber, and There’s Something About Mary).
Green Book is in the running for a best picture Oscar, and Viggo Mortensen has been nominated for a best actor award.
Green Book opens at Luna Leederville, Luna On SX, the Windsor and Luna Outdoor on Thursday, 24 January.
Watch the trailer…