Green Book (2018) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.

  • In 1962, Tony "Tony Lip" Vallelonga, a tough bouncer, is looking for work when his nightclub is closed for renovations. The most promising offer turns out to be the driver for the African-American classical pianist Don Shirley for a concert tour into the Deep South states. Although hardly enthused at working for a black man, Tony accepts the job and they begin their trek armed with The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide for safe travel through America's racial segregation. Together, the snobbishly erudite pianist and the crudely practical bouncer can barely get along with their clashing attitudes to life and ideals. However, as the disparate pair witness and endure America's appalling injustices on the road, they find a newfound respect for each other's talents and start to face them together. In doing so, they would nurture a friendship and understanding that would change both their lives.

  • New York City bouncer Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga is searching for new employment after his nightclub is closed for renovations, eventually landing an interview as a driver for "Doc" Don Shirley, a famed pianist. Their first encounter does not go well, as Tony's flippant, uncultured behavior clashes with Don's sophisticated, reserved demeanor. However, Don eventually hires Tony on the strength of others' word, as he needs someone who can help him stay out of trouble during an eight-week concert tour through the Deep South. They embark with plans to return home on Christmas Eve. Tony is given a copy of the Green Book by Don's record studio: a guide for black travelers to find safe havens throughout the segregated South. They begin the tour in the Midwest before eventually heading further south. Tony and Don clash over their differences, as Tony feels uncomfortable being asked to act properly, while Don is disgusted by Tony's habits. Regardless, Tony finds himself impressed with Don's talent on the piano, and increasingly disgusted by the discriminatory treatment the latter receives by the hosts when he is not on stage. After a bar incident leads to a group of white men threatening Don's life, Tony rescues him by threatening to pull a gun on them. He instructs Don not to go out without him for the rest of the tour.

  • Dr Don Shirley is a world-class African-American pianist, who is about to embark on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962. In need of a driver and protection, Shirley recruits Tony Lip, a tough-talking bouncer from an Italian-American neighbourhood in the Bronx. Despite their differences, the two men soon develop an unexpected bond while confronting racism and danger in an era of segregation.

  • In early-1960s openly and legally segregated America, two polar opposites--the distinguished and refined African-American classical pianist, Don Shirley, and the uncultivated Italian-American nightclub bouncer, Tony Vallelonga--are about to form an unlikely friendship. With New York's Copacabana Club being renovated, Don and his new problem-solver chauffeur embark on a lengthy two-month concert tour through the hostile Deep South, equipped only with a subtly tremendous talent, a serenely resilient dignity, and a little vert guide book for visitors--The Negro Motorist Green-Book. Before endless kilometres of unfriendly territory, a single man chooses the hard way for the sake of progress; however, can one person make a difference?

  • October, 1962. Italian-American Bronx native Tony Vallelonga - long called Tony Lip by those that know him for being able to BS his way out of anything - largely uses that ability to BS, his street smarts and his fists to do his job in "customer relations" (i.e. a glorified bouncer) at the Copa, where he has to deal with well dressed toughs and thugs, albeit with a smile and often without they knowing that he is screwing them. Like most of his Italian-American friends and family, he is a working class bigot, as demonstrated by his actions concerning some black laborers who did work in his and his wife Dolores' apartment. With the Copa closed for renovations until the new year, Tony has to find another job in the interim, he, without telling Dolores, pawning some of his valuables in the meantime to put food on their and their two adolescent sons' table. When he is given the inside scoop on a job working for Dr. Don Shirley, he only did not know before meeting Dr. Shirley that the Dr. refers to his multiple Ph.D.s, and that he is a classically trained pianist (the head of the popular music playing Don Shirley Trio) instead of a physician, but arguably most importantly that he is a well educated, wealthy and refined black man. The job is not only as chauffeur as Tony initially thought, but to be his all-expenses and well paid general foot soldier, especially in the area of security, for the eight week tour he has arranged for the trio with his record label, much of that tour in the Deep South (the last scheduled date being December 23rd in Birmingham, Alabama) hence the need for especially that security in he being black. Renegotiating the terms, learning that Dr. Shirley actually recruited him based on his reputation for being able to get the job done, and getting the okay from Dolores in the stipulation that he make it home for Christmas or else, Tony accepts the job. Beyond the obvious hazards of the race relations aspect of the job once they get to the Deep South, they will not only have to get over their own differences as humans in their moral and ethical values to survive with each other for eight weeks, but deal with the general role reversal of the uneducated white man being subservient to the well-educated black man. In that aspect, Dr. Shirley may have other issues in the Deep South as not fitting into either the white or black populations in general.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In 1962 in New York City, Tony "Tony Lip" Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) is a doorman and peacekeeper/bouncer at the Copacabana nightclub. He's known as Tony Lip because he's an amazing "bullshitter" - getting people to do what they don't want to. He does what he has to to put food on his family's table. When two men start getting into a fist fight, he tosses one out onto the street and gives him a few punches in the face when he resists. He pays the coat check girl to take a rich patron's prized hat so he can "find" it and return it to him for a very big tip.

    The club closes for a few months for renovations, leaving Tony out of work. He and his wife, Dolores (Linda Cardellini), are having trouble making the rent and keeping a roof over their two kids' home. When two black men come over to repair the sink, Dolores gives them lemonade - and Tony throws out their glasses after they use them, much to Dolores's disappointment. Tony makes fifty bucks in a hot dog eating contest to make ends meet. An old contact gets him an interview to be a driver for a doctor, and he goes to Carnegie Hall for the interview. He mistakenly goes to the venue, but learns there's an apartment upstairs. It's ornate and filled with objects around the world. Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). He's not a medical doctor, but a concert pianist. He's doing a concert tour going from the Midwest into the deep south, and needs a driver, but he asked around specifically for someone who could handle trouble - he knows there's going to be racism against him. The tour is two months long, and ends right before Christmas. He asks Tony if he can be away from his family that long, and Tony agrees for the right money. But when Don insists that Tony be prepared to iron his clothes and shine his shoes, Tony refuses, saying he's not a butler. Don dismisses him.

    Tony goes to a bar, upset he fumbled the interview, and a couple of mobsters he knows from the club offer him unsavory work. He declines, lying that he's got money saved. Early the next morning, Don calls Tony's house and asks to speak to Dolores. He asks her if she's okay with her husband being gone for so long. When she agrees, he offers Tony the job. Dolores asks Tony to write her letters, much to his chagrin. The record company rents Tony a nice car, and gives him half the money up front, and tells him he'll get half at the end of the tour - if Don misses a show, he won't get the money. They also give him the 'Green Book', a tourist guide and list of safe places for black people to stay in the segregated Jim Crow southern states.

    Tony is a loudmouth and a talker, and gets on Don's nerves a lot during the drive. As they approach their first tour stop, Don suggests that Tony use a different last name and try to talk better around the guests, but Tony says if they have a problem with how he talks, he'll wait outside, which he does. From outside he watches Don play piano and is impressed with how brilliant he is. Afterwards, he gambles with the other help who are all also outside, and Don is upset with him for being so low-class. Tony wants to know why Don is giving him such a hard time and no one else - and Don says it's because unlike the other help, Tony had the option of being inside.

    In the car, Tony plays contemporary music on the radio and is shocked when Don doesn't know popular music like Aretha Franklin. He questions if Dr. Don Shirley is even black, and when he drives by a Kentucky Fried Chicken and finds out Don has never had fried chicken, he stops. He playfully forces Dr. Shirley to try the chicken. Tony works on his letters for Dolores, and they're terrible, so Don helps him make them more poetic and beautiful. At a later stop, Tony finds a gemstone that's being sold on the ground and pockets it, but Don forces him to put it back, saying it's stealing even though Tony disagrees.

    As they enter the south, Don has to stay at blacks only hotels separate from Tony. Alone, Don drinks by himself, alienated from the other people at the hotel. Tony gets a call at his room that there's a skirmish happening at a local bar, where he finds Don being assaulted by racist white patrons. Tony reaches for a gun and claims he'll shoot if they don't let him go. They narrowly escape, and Don asks if he really has a gun. Tony says of course not, and orders Don to go nowhere without him.

    At the next concert venue at a Southern mansion, the host is very friendly to Don. For dinner he has had the cooks prepared fried chicken. At intermission, Don asks to use the bathroom, and the host directs him to the outhouse, not allowing him to use the inside bathroom. Don refuses to use the outhouse, so Tony drives him back to his hotel just to use the bathroom there.

    At the next stop, the two walk by a suit store, and when Don admires a suit in the window, Joe insists he buy it. When they enter the store, the racist employees refuse to sell Don a suit. That evening, Tony is called to a disturbance at a local YMCA where Don and another local white man have been arrested - apparently the gym manager caught them in a fistfight. Tony bribes the police officers to let Don go.

    At the next town, Tony runs into the mobsters. In Italian, in front of Don, they tell Tony that he should quit and come work for them. Tony agrees to meet them for a drink later that night. As they check into their hotel, Don offers Tony a raise and a promotion. Tony refuses to accept, and Don reveals he speaks Italian. Tony explains he was never going to take the job, he was going to meet them and tell them now. Don is relieved. He awkwardly apologizes to Tony for the situation the night before, but Tony explains that he's been working in New York City nightclubs for years and knows that the world is "complicated".

    Don continues to help Tony with writing the letters, which continue to impress Dolores and the rest of his family. On the way to their final stop, they are pulled over by the local police. The redneck officer tells them that Don can't be out past sundown (in part due to the town they are in being a Sundown Town... where all black people are under curfew). They are both forced out of the car and frisked, and the officer asks Tony for his ID, who shows the officer his New York driver's license. When the officer asks Tony what kind of last name Vallelonga is, Tony says it's Italian... and the racist officer insults Tony by calling him "half a nigger". Tony immediately punches the redneck officer in the face, and both him and Don are arrested and taken to jail.

    In their cell, Don is enraged at Tony, since his hot head cost them the tour. Don demands to make a phone call, since he committed no crime. The police allow him to. A short while later, the police receive an angry call from the Governor and reluctantly release both Tony and Don. Don reveals to Tony that he called the US Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Tony thinks that's amazing, but Don is furious. He is embarrassed that someone so important now sees him as a rabble-rouser. The two men have a huge argument over all their differences - Don sees Tony as a man who refuses to better himself, and Tony sees Don as a man who seems to make things more difficult for himself and fits in nowhere. Don screams at Tony, "if I'm not black enough, and I'm not white enough, I'm not man enough, then what am I?"

    The two arrive at the final concert venue at another hotel, where Don is shown to a tiny closet that they refer to as his dressing room. Tony goes to eat in the dining room with the players in the band, but when Don arrives to join them, the concierge refuses to let him eat there. Don refuses to play unless he is able to eat in the dining room. The concierge won't allow it, and Tony pulls him aside to talk to him. Tony tries to reason with him, but the concierge tries to bribe him to get Don to play. Don enters, and tells Tony he'll do the show if Tony wants, knowing Tony won't get paid unless they finish the tour. But Tony sticks with Don, and they bail on the gig despite the screams of the concierge.

    They go down the street to a bar for black people. Don buys a round of drinks, flashing his wallet filled with money, which a couple of black youths see. After some prodding, Don plays piano with the jazz band. When they leave, Tony spots the two youths waiting behind their car to mug them, and fires two shots off into the air to scare them away... revealing he did have a gun all along.

    Tony and Don begin their drive back to New York, hoping to make it by Christmas Eve. The weather is really bad, with a lot of snow. They get pulled over again, but this time the cop just warns them their tire is skidding. Tony can't stay awake any longer and can barely see through the snow, and accepts he won't make it home and goes to sleep - but while he sleeps Don drives them the rest of the way to Tony's apartment. He wakes Tony up and encourages him to go home - Tony invites him but he declines. Tony goes upstairs and surprises his family. Don returns to his ornate apartment, and sits there alone. He ends up coming to Tony's, and while most of his family is a little confused, Dolores joyously welcomes him and thanks him for helping Tony with his letters.

    The post-script reveals that in real life, Tony became the maitre'D of the Copa, and Dr. Shirley continued being successful in music. They remained friends for the rest of their lives.

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