Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 2018. Participant Media, DreamWorks, Amblin Partners, Innisfree Pictures, Wessler Entertainment. Screenplay by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly. Cinematography by Sean Porter. Produced by Jim Burke, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga, Charles B. Wessler. Music by Kris Bowers. Production Design by Tim Galvin. Costume Design by Betsy Heimann. Film Editing by Patrick J. Don Vito. Golden Globe Awards 2018. Toronto International Film Festival 2018. Washington Film Critics Awards 2018.
A low-level Brooklyn hood (Viggo Mortensen) takes an assortment of tough-guy jobs to support his family, punching out drunks at the Copacabana or winning hot-dog eating contests, when a lucrative opportunity comes up for some easy cash. What he thinks is a job as chauffeur for a medical doctor turns out to be a gig driving a world-class musician (Mahershala Ali) as he tours America for two months, told by the star’s record company that he will be well compensated for making sure that the magnificently talented Dr. Don Shirley makes it to every gig. Mortensen’s Tony Lip has all the racist reservations that he and his friends share about being in close quarters with African Americans but knows what side his bread is buttered on, quickly realizing that his skills as a meathead will be required for keeping his employer safe when their tour takes them through the segregated, early-sixties deep south. It’s not long before these two find the middle of the road since that’s pretty much what the movie promises will happen, with Shirley constantly trying to turn Tony into a gentleman, while Tony sees the indignities that Shirley endures and begs him to be more practical about the vulnerable situations he puts himself in. Every aspect of this story is telegraphed loud and clear for easy calculation in this completely uncomplicated road movie, from Tony’s throwing drinking glasses in the trash that two black plumbers drink from after fixing his kitchen, to the maitre d’ who won’t let Shirley dine at the club that he has been hired to headline at, but there’s a vibrancy to the way that the film is played out that still feels very sweet to enjoy. Mortensen is ridiculously cast as a mook stereotype, flapping his hands like a trained seal to indicate his New Yawk brashness with every word he speaks, but he has a lovely chemistry with Ali, who is dazzling as a man trapped within layers of marginalization, forced regularly to make a choice between being a musician or a person and tortured by the fact that he can rarely be both. Beautifully shot and featuring a magnificent supporting performance by the always glowing Linda Cardellini, this is not a particularly challenging movie, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself unable to tear yourself away.