The Best of Enemies.
It’s a bit of a shock to me that this movie is releasing in April, not typically a month packed with heavy-hitting dramas, especially considering both Sam Rockwell and Taraji P. Henson star in this and they’re both on quite a streak recently.
Welcome to Durham, North Carolina in 1971. When a school for black children burns down, the city must decide how to solve this problem, which includes discussing school integration. An outside mediator Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) is brought in to facilitate a discussion between all interested parties, spearheaded by the President of the local KKK C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell) and community organizer Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson). For two weeks, this group spends every day together debating and discussing what integration would mean to everyone involved.
When I say both Rockwell and Henson are on a streak right now, that streak continues though I’m not sure if their performances will be remembered come next year’s Oscars. Should they be? Yes. They have an excellent chemistry here and both of them deliver some of their career’s best performances.
This is also quite an intriguing real life story. We want to believe that even the worst people can change their opinions and so when we watch the head of the KKK start to doubt and think about life differently, it inspires hope, that even the worst of humanity can be potentially redeemed.
There’s also some very effective uses of found footage in the final moments of the film that relate to the real Ellis and Atwater that again inspires hope.
What doesn’t work?
Now, this movie will draw some criticism, for similar ways that Greek Book drew criticism. It praises and celebrates this horrible man for changing his mindset, for just becoming a decent person. As the film closed, it made me a little irritated how Atwater’s arc ended, versus how Ellis’ arc ended. So I’m a bit conflicted. Yes, I want to see hope that even the head honcho in the KKK can have a change of heart, but how much celebration does that basic act of decency deserve?
The Best of Enemies is solid, though not impervious to critique. Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell deliver great performances, though the character of C.P. Ellis is praised a little too highly in the film’s climax, which may make some audiences roll their eyes in disdain. It’s a safe pick and has some great moments, if you’re looking for an interesting true life story.