Green Book

For many, the attitudes of the early 1960’s feel like something from another universe. Racism, homophobia and sexism were rife in an era gradually sowing the seeds of hope which could emerge out of this awful dystopia. Whilst those issues are still prevalent today, earlier decades were a bleak time for more progressive ideas to be commonly accepted. ‘Green Book’ explores these themes in an intelligent and thoughtful manner. Based on true events, it shows how far the world has come and how it should ensure such archaic thoughts need to be prevented from re-surfacing.

‘Doc’ Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is a renowned black jazz pianist travelling America’s Deep South on an eight week concert tour. Joining him is Frank (Viggo Mortensen) an Italian bouncer from New York who acts as his chauffeur/protector. Moving through the dark recesses of the South, they face the prejudices of those they meet as well as their own. Their bond is constantly tested with the tour offering a myriad of surprises changing both men forever.

‘Green Book’ is an excellent film making use of its small group of characters. The main focus is on Don and Frank’s relationship and how it transforms over their literal and spiritual journey. Although this may send the cliché bells ringing, ‘Green Book’ succeeds due to its handling of rich material and strong performances. With Frank’s street-wise, tough demeanour a counterpart to Don’s precise and narrow world-view, the resulting personality clashes provide fascinating insight in their psyche as well as the era.

Making ‘Green Book’ even more interesting is seeing how Don has to learn to become more comfortable in his racial identity as well as Frank’s acceptance of his prejudices. Ali and Mortensen successfully embody their fractured characters with their interaction with the hate they face truly shocking. The script doesn’t pull any punches in uncovering harsh truths but has a warmness to it as the two men’s friendship develops. The era is depicted well without resorting to endless popular musical cues with the pacing just right.

‘Green Book’ has garnered much praise and it’s easy seeing why. It’s a simple but effective tale of standing up against vile bigotry and acceptance of diversity. With recent news filled with groups wanting to wind back basic rights, films such as ‘Green Book ‘reminds that going back to the past is never a good thing with common dignity for all aspects of humanity one all should strive for.

Rating out of 10: 8

The Mule

To be classified as a ‘reliable performer’ doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Director and actor Clint Eastwood has been far from that. Having directed movies for nearly fifty years, he knows what makes a good story. Whilst he’s had his share of mis-fires, his hit ratio has been high. ‘The Mule’ finds him gliding towards the twilight of his career in style. Derived from real events, ‘The Mule’ is another engaging tale benefitting from Eastwood’s gnarly presence.

Ninety year old war veteran Earl (Clint Eastwood) is estranged from his family and facing financial ruin. Searching for ways to make cash, he becomes a mule for a Mexican drug cartel. Due to his age, he arouses little suspicion as he criss-crosses the country with a car full of cocaine. Events take a dark turn when the activities of the cartel’s boss Laton (Andy Garcia) attract the attention of DEA agents Colin (Bradley Cooper) and Trevino (Michael Pena). Earl swiftly faces danger as he becomes caught in the cross-fire where a deadly outcome is assured.

Clint Eastwood knows the role of Earl is a perfect fit for him. A stubborn free-spirit whose actions have caused harm in his familial relationships, Earl is a man continually seeking new horizons. Being a drug-runner isn’t exactly a virtuous job description but it re-energises Earl in unexpected ways. Almost playing like a geriatric version of ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘The Mule’ is an amiable drama with lashes of humour and pathos not giving too much for Eastwood to bite into.

‘The Mule’ is far better than Eastwood’s recent output which has been poor. Although lacking true authenticity with Eastwood’s thespian vanity in full display, the creaky story is consistently watchable with fine performances. His direction also makes America’s vast countryside a ‘character’ within this peculiar tale with its expanses hiding the dark underbelly in which Earl resides. Had more dramatic depth been woven into the narrative ‘The Mule’ may have been more memorable.

A good Clint Eastwood movie is preferable to a dull one with ‘The Mule’ sitting in the mid-range of his cinematic catalogue. His advancing years finds him contemplating his mortality amidst the gritty glamour of the drug trade. Time will tell if this is his swan-song but Eastwood has left a legacy of films sure to resonate long after his mortal departure.

Rating out of 10: 7