This is the true story of Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) as recounted by his son who co-wrote the script.
Vallelonga is a New York night club bouncer and muscle-for-hire during the 1960s. He is recruited by Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a highly regarded classical pianist and academic who needs a driver/assistant to accompany him on tour to the Deep South – a very risky undertaking given that Dr Shirley is black and Jim Crow is law in the southern states. What ensues is a road trip and a soul journey where two abrasively different individuals chip away at the wall that divides them, release their respective prejudices, and live happily ever after.
A heart-warming tale if you ignore the ‘white redeemer’ inference, some lazy cliches and plot holes. Even as you watch the film, you get the feeling that the less interesting of the two characters’ stories is being told, but when you read about the real Dr Shirley – a bonafide genius – you realise just how diminished he is in the film.
Another missed opportunity is with the soundtrack. Dr Shirley’s performances comprise of classical jazz fusion of which we only ever get a few bars but which would have made an extraordinary, cohesive underscore.
Reviewed by Rita Bratovich