Based on a true friendship between Tony Lip, a working-class Italian-American bouncer, and Don Shirley, an African-American classical pianist. In the 1960’s, Lip becomes Shirley’s driver on a concert tour through the American South.
We have received a lot of movies in recent years that focus on race and segregation through true stories, and it’s nice to have one on a very small scale that only focuses on a friendship between two people but still carries its point across as effectively. Viggo Mortensen stands out as Tony Lip, a somewhat selfish character who has a heart but also acts however he ants and isn’t afraid to use violence on whoever he deems needs to learn a lesson. Mahershala Ali is also great, as he clearly spent lots of training to learn how to become such a great pianist like his character, but his role is also sophisticated and caring despite facing racism in such a time in the Deep South. The chemistry between the two makes the film so interesting; Mortensen’s character has a narrow view of those outside of his poor Italian neighborhood in New York but learns to become good friends with those he never though he’d meet and become a friendlier person. The contrast between the two is also excellent — not just between race but also between social class — Tony Lip has a more uncultured manner, also having grown up in a poor neighborhood, while Don Shirley is a very elegant and honest man, and this contrast makes scenes like the two sharing a bucket of fried chicken come off as very entertaining. Shirley is a character who seems like he’s in a higher class and given more opportunity to perform than other black artists at this time due to segregation, but even though he never sees himself as any lesser than the white audiences he performs to, he feels that he’s treated as “just another black man” to the moment he steps off stage, as he explains in a powerful monologue that’s definitely the best scene in the film. This breaking of stereotype, a wealthy black man teaching a poor white man life lessons like kindness (and he even helps him write poetic letters to his wife), but maintaining of realism makes the film even more thought-provoking, and the dynamic between the two main characters while delivering themes about interactions between race and social class in the ’60s makes the film a worthy watch, that I’m sure won’t be ignored in awards categories like Picture and Actor.