The Best Of Enemies is a 2019 film directed by Robin Bissell and based on the nonfiction book The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South by Osha Gray Davidson detailing the story of civil rights activist Ann Atwater and Ku Klux Klan leader C. P. Ellis who feuded over school integration in Durham, North Carolina.
In 1971, Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) is battling for equal rights in Durham. She is often at odds with local KKK leader C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), who is working behind-the-scenes with Mayor Carvie Oldham (Bruce McGill) and local businessman Garland Keith (Nick Searcy). After the African-American elementary school is partially burned down, black activist Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) leaders a ten-day community event to decide whether or not to integrate the schools. Ellis is openly hostile and even gets Klan materials displayed as the event goes on. However, as he interacts with Atwater, her fierce nature and determination start to change him.
Based on an incredible true story, both Henson and Rockwell perform both their parts with great chemistry. They bounce off each other with incredible precision. Likewise, Ceesay and Anne Heche, who plays Ellis’ wife, are equally talented in their supportive roles. Of course, Nick Searcy is brilliant in his role as community leader bent on keeping his town in ignorance.
The Best Of Enemies is Robin Bissell’s directorial debut and he does an excellent job of keeping the movie on a good pace. It was told very well and he does a good job of showing the hate of the white supremacy group and the sheer determination of the civil rights activists.
I have exactly two complaints about the film. The first is that it barely brushes on Ellis’ transition from hateful bigot to understanding. While it does have moments where Ellis is shown questioning his beliefs, the full transition is brushed over and seems a bit sudden. The second is the film’s focus on socioeconomic issues. The movie makes a big deal about rich versus poor as the underlining problem in 1970s Durham. Perhaps it was true back then, but the points were not even subtle in the film as it seemed to turn not just poor whites against rich whites, but also poor African-Americans and rich African-Americans. It seemed overwrought and drawn out.
Bottom line, despite the issues, I did find the film genuinely pleasant to watch. While it is clearly designed to be an Oscar bait film, it is good Oscar bait. Bissell tells the story in a bold way, making the film shine.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Violence, Racially charged slurs, Foul language
FAVORITE QUOTE: If I don’t believe that, then I got a problem.
Check out the trailer below:
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