Film Review – The Best of Enemies
The Best of Enemies
The Best of Enemies focuses on the racial tensions and discrimination in 1971 Durham, North Carolina. It is based on the true story of what happened when the possible integration of the city’s schools came to the forefront and quickly due to a school fire at the black elementary school. The film is based on the book by Osha Gray Davidson, and the script is by Robin Bissell who also directed it.
The film focuses on two people: Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) and C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell). Ann is an activist and runs Operation Breakthrough. She is someone who gets things done and stands up for the inequalities and hardships of blacks in Durham. C.P. is a gas station owner who is president of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan (the KKK). They both know each other already and are obviously not fans of each other. When the issue of integration is pressed by the judge on the community to decide, a “charrette” is held, led by Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay). Ann and C.P. reluctantly choose to accept the positions of co-chairs of the charrette, leading the separate black and white sides of integration.
There is nothing inherently wrong or bad about The Best of Enemies. It’s just that I have seen this film so many times. Well, not this particular film, but those exactly like it. The ending is predicted after the first minute of the film, or even just from the film’s trailer. The event depicted in this film is an important social moment in our country’s history and while I do agree that it is important, was this a film that needed to be made. Could The Best of Enemies have been better served to its audience as an HBO television film? It may have reached a wider audience and thus educated more people about this event.
We are living in a divisive time in this country. As much as I find it educational to watch films such as these, and be shocked that this event happened only seven years before my birth, I really do not need to go to a theatre to hear characters being racist. It exists in real life right now and can just be seen by going on social media. This film may be trying to show how far we have come, but honestly, it is not that far from where we are now in history, especially if you live in the South.
Regardless of my feelings towards the film, Taraji P. Henson does a wonderful job portraying Ann Atwater with her tough exterior, no-nonsense attitude, and a large amount of courage. Her costumes, wig, and the adjustment of her bust are the added cherry on top to Henson’s performance. She rose to the occasion to envelop herself in Ann’s image, and she is truly a pleasure to watch. Sam Rockwell took a chance playing C.P. Ellis, considering he played a character of similar morals in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Both C.P. and Dixon partially redeemed themselves by the end of their respective films and had a change in how they see the world. The difference with C.P. is that he was the president of the KKK’s local chapter and went out of his way to denigrate those of color and refuse their patronage. C.P. becomes somewhat likable by the end, suffering financially for his change of heart, and those he chose to hate take pity on him for the chance he took. There was obviously something interesting about playing C.P. that drew Rockwell to such a similar role. Rockwell was at least masterful in showing his uncomfortableness with his slow change in his position in the community, ultimately making his family proud.
The Best of Enemies will suffer at the box office due to how little promotion it received from its studio, its competition in the theatre, as well as the subject matter. Had this film been released four years ago, it may have fared better. Now, it is not something I see the public seeking out to experience. Aside from its historically accurate use of the N-word, the film could be used in an educational setting. The film at least has a strong and spirited performance by Taraji P. Henson that should make it something to see in the future.