REVIEW — “The Best of Enemies”
Robin Bissell’s The Best of Enemies is a 1971 Drama based of the novel by Osha Gray Davidson’s of the same name. It depicts the unlikely bond of Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson), an outspoken, activists fighting for her community, and C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), the head leader of the Ku Klux Klan chapter in Durham, North Carolina. The story begins with Ann fighting for the occupants of a building not safe and reliable for its tenants. The Klan and local courts are against the outspoken Ann. It evolves into a deeper issue when a local all-African American school is burned down, due to unsafe conditions.
C.P Ellis is then given the task to stop Ann in her tracks. As we go on, the state brings Bill Riddick in to bring the two together and lead a community conversation (or charrette) that lasts ten sessions filled with six randomly-selected white and African American people. The performances from both leads were equally fantastic in their own ways. Taraji P. Henson brings an emotional intensity to her character that shows her strong will to fight, as well as her vulnerable side that shows the gravity of the events taking its toll on her. Sam Rockwell’s performance shows the internalized battle of doing what is right vs. doing what others want you to do for the sake of themselves. The dynamic between the pair and their struggle is a compelling parallel to see on screen.
What felt off for this movie was the pacing. When we are presented with the problems both parties bring forth and want to discuss at these charrette meetings, we are only presented with the surface level of these meetings and not presented with the issues these people have and their ideologies, making it hard to see the depth with this committee. It is a great thing to bring these stories to light, talk about them and reflect, but this film makes it hard when it only sheds a little light on what was discussed. We only see the one problem at hand: The integration of African American and white kids in public schools. It would have been interesting to see more tension, emotion, and reality to this plot. The film seems to beating around the issues instead of tackling the story head-on. With this topic, a viewer would expect to see these issues handled realistically. There is also a lot going on within these characters’ personal lives, which works for the main leads. Showing us how different they can be when it is on their own agenda. It is a wonderful story with a impact that changed and improved America slowly, showing us that completely opposite views can work together in bettering society.