Summary: An Italian American becomes the driver for a pianist for his tour in the deep South and the pianist happens to be Black.
Viggo Mortensen? Check. Mahershala Ali? Check. Based on a true story? Check. Semi-sheltered, heartwarming tale about how eventual friendship overcomes racism? Check. Looks like we’ve got our first Oscar bait. It’s like The Help for men. That’s pretty much all you need to know. Two people from opposite, somewhat antagonistic backgrounds go on a journey together, see each other’s experiences, and get closer. It’s a simple story that we might have seen before, but it’s worth it for the chemistry between Ali and Mortensen. The movie is so-so but the two of them are just so enjoyable to watch together.
I think some people have labeled this as a “safe” movie in regards to how it portrays the bias and open racism that Ali’s Don faces and Mortensen’s Tony witnesses, which is a fair point. It’s a generally typical arc for Tony- he’s casually racist but in performing his job (and sometimes defending Don), he grows closer to him, more protective, and eventually, the job turns into friendship. But there are a lot of subtle complexities in each of the characters as well as their dynamic. There is a beautiful respect and friendship that builds between the two men- a kind of homosocial kinship that we don’t get to see very often. And just because it’s not spoken explicitly enough or explained through dialogue doesn’t mean it’s not there. Specifically, the character of Don has a huge identity crisis- there’s a little bit of self-loathing, shame, and pride all mixed into one. While he doesn’t talk about this a lot, it’s not hard to see how he struggles in certain situations or his internal processes. It’s another great performance by Ali, who is quickly becoming one of the most dependable and in-demand actors since his Oscar win and for good reason.
And that’s complimented by Mortensen, who is bound to get a nomination this year. While I don’t think this is a groundbreaking performance (and I’d say he’s overshadowed by Ali), it’s a more comical Mortensen than we usually get to see. And while it seems like Tony just starts to accept Don, I think its appropriate for this kind of intimate friendship. There are a lot of friendships or relationships built on a single moment of empathy that comes out of witnessing or experiencing how one person is treated. It’s not always something that needs to be discussed or explored or having “teachable moments.” Sometimes- and in the case of this story- it’s how people choose to conduct themselves or feel compelled to take action where they can after it happens.