Viggo Mortensen has once again been robbed of an Oscar. Don't get me wrong, Mahershala Ali is phenomenal and fully deserves his award; his emotional portrayal of a man that has become removed from every aspect of society is heartbreaking and powerful. But Mortensen gives an equally incredible performance and it annoys the hell out of me that he's yet to get the recognition he deserves.
Awards aside, what a movie this is. It's immensely emotional and poignant, made all the more so for its roots in reality. Characters are riveting, pacing is perfect, and the tension really drives home the underlying racism at play in America. I connected to both characters deeply and really cared about their journey, both in a literal sense of the tour and in a more cognitive sense as they learn about each other and see new perspectives. Now, more than ever, it feels like an incredibly meaningful film.
Outside of its wider societal context, it's also a masterclass in clever direction and CGI. The first thing I wanted to know was how much Ali actually learned to play the piano and the answer was incredible. Yes, some scenes use his hands (notably the single pan shot at his first on-film performance) but even in those scenes he isn't playing, the music is dubbed over the top. Then as you get wider, his hands are replaced by his musical doubles. It's seamless.
Even wilder is that the music dubbed over the top isn't Don Shirley himself. Whilst there are many recordings of his work, the quality is substandard compared to modern film audio, so the filmmakers had to re-record everything with a current musician, who spent over a year trying to perfect Shirley's particularly unique play style. That's... that's incredible.
Back to the film, I don't have a bad note to put forward. The music, the set design, the plot, the dialogue – it's all phenomenal.