“The Best of Enemies” stars Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Babou Ceesay, Anne Heche, and Wes Bentley. Released on April 5, 2019, the film is about a civil rights activist who teams up with the KKK leader to co-chair a community meeting.
The film features the directorial debut of Robin Bissell, and it is based on the book of the same name by Osha Gray Davidson. If superheroes and pet cemeteries aren’t your thing, then let’s turn our attention to a fact-based drama that deals with ending segregation. This is something that I was interested in seeing but haven’t got to until now. The film has been very popular for older audiences during the first two weeks of release, and I unfortunately didn’t have the time to see it because of my personal schedule. Plus, my mother wanted to see it, so I had to find the right day for me to take her. Luckily, that day happened to be today. So far, audiences are in love with Bissell’s directorial debut despite receiving some mixed reviews from critics, which is very common nowadays when it comes to films like this. Now that I finally got a chance to see it, what’s my personal take on this real-life story? Well, let me put it to you like this. From a historical perspective, this is another story that needs to be shared, especially during a time like today. From a film perspective, the intentions of telling that part of history were noble, but it wasn’t able to reach the same amount of potential as the other great films that deal with racism, such as “42” and “Green Book”.
The first thing I want to talk about is the story. The film is obviously based on a true story, so you might recognize a few similar elements that piece the other fact-based films together. Aside from that, the film’s plot had plenty of interesting and well-intentioned moments that made me grew attached to the characters, including the perspectives of Ann Atwater (Henson) and C.P. Ellis (Rockwell) during the community meeting. Unfortunately, those moments didn’t exactly hit the notes that it was supposed to hit. As I mentioned before, this is the first film that Robin Bissell directed and while he did a pretty nice job at making the scenario believable, his screenplay somehow struggled to carry the emotional weight without making the film too depressing for its intended audience. I was also a bit disappointed with how they handled the friendship between Atwater and Ellis. This was something that they rarely explored throughout the entire film. Everything else was fine the way it was, but if they want to emphasize the “friendship” angle in a film that takes place in 1970s Durham, they should’ve put more focus on that without making it too long. Speaking of which, the film had a running time of around two hours and 13 minutes, which doesn’t sound too bad for a fact-based drama, but thanks to its uneven pacing, it can feel like you’re sitting through a meeting that lasts around two and a half hours. The only thing that kept the film going for me was the two main leads. Taraji P. Henson absolutely nailed her role as Ann Atwater. I honestly couldn’t imagine someone else playing this character. Much like her other roles, Henson has the right amount of sass and heart to fully embody this real-life person. I would like for her to get some awards recognition for her performance. Then again, there are plenty of upcoming performances that could upstage her during the fall, but we’ll see how it’ll turn out when that time comes. Sam Rockwell was also great as Ellis, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan. The film does tend to focus a bit more on Ellis than on Atwater from time to time, but Rockwell’s charismatic performance was able to make that strategy worthwhile.
Overall, “The Best of Enemies” has a story that is worth telling from a historical point of view, but from a filmmaking point of view, it didn’t exactly live up to its thought-provoking concept. While the strength of the film comes from the main leads and Bissell’s direction, it lacked a certain amount of depth that made the other racism-based films heartfelt and memorable. However, despite all the flaws it had, I still feel that this film should be seen by everyone. Everyone who doesn’t want history to repeat itself. Everyone who is tired of being treated like dirt based on the color of their skin. Everyone who wants to spread love, not hate. #WorldPeace. It’s worth watching for Henson and Rockwell alone, either at the theater or at home.