Green Book 2018 ***

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Why don’t the Academy Awards reflect my own personal politics and prejudices? That seemed to be the main argument against Peter Farrelly’s Green Book in the 2018 awards season, and winning Best Picture seemed to alienate many. But with voters split between Black Klansmen and Black Panther, it’s not surprising that there might be enough white and elderly voters to propel Green Book to the top of the pile. It’s an upgrade on Driving Miss Daisy, with Viggo Mortensen as chauffeur for Maharshala Ali, driving around the Southern states in the 1960’s and encountering racial prejudice that tests their friendship. While there are familiar elements of despised white saviour and magical Negro tropes in here. Green Book slyly dodges most of the expected lecturing and hones down on a more gentle conflict of characters between the two men. It might not be the most challenging, outspoken or creative in the awards-season crop, but it’s also an effective civics lesson that’s not really deserving of the levels of abuse it got.

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Ragtime 1981 ****

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Milos Foreman’s 1981 drama is best remembered as the final film of screen legend James Cagney; he’s only on screen for a couple of memorable scenes, but this adaptation of El Doctorow’s historical novel has plenty of other points to recommend it. It’s the story of a black man, Coalhouse Walker Jr (Howard E Rollins Jr) whose wife and baby are taken in by a well-off white family. Coalhouse gets into a beef with a Fire Chief (Kenneth McMillian) that leads to a siege, with Police Chief Waldo attempting to resolve the matter. There’s small roles for Jeff Daniels, Samuel L Jackson, Mary Steenburgen, Donald O’Connor and more, and the sense of the 1900’s is pervasively caught. Ragtime was garlanded with Oscar nominations, but didn’t win; it’s not exactly a crowd-pleaser at 155 mins, but as a consideration of the darker side of American history, specifically racism, it’s an absorbing and powerful watch for grown-up audiences.