No segue. Seen the trailer a few times and that’s it.
The story looks like it’s about a black civil rights leader who needs help from the local leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Taraji P. Henson (WHAT MEN WANT , ACRIMONY , and HIDDEN FIGURES ) and Sam Rockwell (VICE , THREE BILLBOARDS , IRON MAN 2 , CHARLIE’S ANGELS , and upcoming films JOJO RABBIT  and TROLLS WORLD TOUR ).
In support, we have Wes Bentley (M:I – FALLOUT  and PETE’S DRAGON ), Anne Heche (THE LAST WORD ), Bruce McGill (RIDE ALONG , 2 , and the upcoming POMS ), and John Gallagher Jr. (PEPPERMINT , BELKO , 10 CLOVERFIELD , and upcoming films AMERICAN WOMAN  and UNDERWATER ).
Now for the crew. Directing and writing is Robin Bissell, making his writing and directorial debut. One of the producers is Tobey Maguire, known for 5TH WAVE (2016). Composing the score is Marcelo Zarvos, known for MAPPLETHORPE (2019), WONDER (2017), FENCES (2016), AMERICAN ULTRA (2015), and upcoming films BREAKTHROUGH (2019) and OTHERHOOD (2019). The cinematographer is David Lanzenberg, known for PEPPERMINT, PAPER TOWNS , and the upcoming IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2019). Finally, the editor is Harry Yoon, known for DETROIT (2017).
Overall, I can’t say that this movie isn’t piquing my interest. A black civil rights woman making “friends” with the leader of the Klan… I’m tickled.
This is my honest opinion of: THE BEST OF ENEMIES
Set in Durham, North Carolina, circa 1971. Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) has been fighting endlessly against the apathetic city council about the poor living conditions the the local black community has suffered from. Claiborne-Paul “C.P.” Ellis (Sam Rockwell) is the President of the local Ku Klux Klan, fiercely loyal to the cause of the Klan, who has butted heads with Ann on several occasions. One day, the local all-black school gets set on fire; electrical causes, and then a civil debate is brought forward over whether or not to allow the students to be integrated into an all-white school. The debate takes the form of a “Charrette,” led by an NAACP member named Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay), and is bringing together a diverse group of representatives with a vested interest in the outcome of the debate, and the two co-chairs beside Bill are Ann and C.P.
You know, when I left the movie theater, I thought to myself, “this was a damn good flick and I really liked it” and felt good about that opinion. But now that I’ve written my reviews for SHAZAM and PET SEMATARY, I was about to get started here, and the first line in the review was, “This was a damn good film.” But then… I stopped. I was frozen with indecision toward what to write about. Then I looked at the line again, “damn good film,” and something wasn’t sitting right with me. Something about that sentence didn’t feel correct. Something about this movie was making me disagree with myself. So I put the review away for a couple of hours and decided to look up reviews of the flick to see if other, more qualified critics, could shed light on the movie that I wasn’t seeing. My first red flag was “Green Book.” I didn’t even need to finish reading the title to that review to suddenly hit me. Oh Jesus… this movie is basically GREEN BOOK, isn’t it? In a matter of microseconds, the comparisons came flooding in. But that wasn’t what did me in. Three articles later, and I finally have a clear opinion: this movie is not good. In fact, in a few ways, it’s enraging.
The truth is, this movie is a white savior movie. Yeah… really think about that. The main character is C.P. Ellis and how he’s the reason why integration happened for this community. C.P. Ellis is the President of Ku Klux Klan. How in hell do you expect me to buy the leader of a notorious white supremacist group, one of the greatest shit stains in our American history that continues to this day, is going to be the “good guy” of the movie. Okay, I’m making it sound worse than it is, but… actually, am I? In the movie, C.P. Ellis is a man with some integrity. He’ll shoot up a woman’s house for having a black boyfriend, but reminds his fellows not to hurt her. However, as I understand it, the real C.P. Ellis was a downright monster before he turned over that new leaf. That’s… such a pussy move on the filmmakers. What, are American audiences too afraid to see the gritty realism of reality? Would that have been too hard to sell to your average film-goer? To that I say, GOOD! Grow some balls and hit us with some truth! Make us uncomfortable! Make us squirm and acknowledge what was allowed for the time! Why are movies rooted in history afraid to tackle history?
But it’s all true. Sure, Henson as Ann gets a great deal of screen time, but I wager if you paid close attention, a majority of the screen time is given to C.P. Ellis. At the end of the day, it’s his story. His redemption story. It’s his vote that permits integration. The movie isn’t about Ann taking on prejudice, dismissed by assholes who refuse to acknowledge her voice by childishly turning their chair away… this isn’t abut her. She’s a supporting character delivering an intense performance by Henson, and that’s not right. Hell, the movie should almost be a three-way story between Ellis, Ann, and the black students in crisis.
Looking back on GREEN BOOK, I can see where some people didn’t like it, especially on the side of Don Shirley’s family, who thought that Don wasn’t represented properly, or thought that the story wasn’t enough about him and what he accomplished in his life. Except, here’s where I give the movie a little more slack for those who might agree. For one thing, GREEN BOOK was made by Tony Lip’s son. Of course the man is going to make a movie about his father. Shine a light on the flaws he once had and make a movie about the friendship he had that turned everything around for him. However, you can’t make a movie about a pair of people without getting the life-rights of both parties, so I can see Tony’s son, or his representative, misspeaking about what this movie was going for. Is that the case? I have no idea. Maybe they straight lied about it being about both men and just wanted the life-rights to make the movie he wanted, and not what was expected. Who knows what the actual case is. Secondly, GREEN BOOK has no stakes. What’s it about? It’s about Don Shirley touring around the more racially insensitive areas of the US, showing that he’s a dignified and civilized man, who deserves to be treated as such. It’s very generalized and there’s even an acknowledgement that not everyone will be swayed. It’s just the hope that if one person is swayed, then his efforts were worth it. The movie, as a whole, is self-contained to the friendship with more focus on Tony Lip. Understandable given who’s making the movie.
However, all of the problems that I’d be willing to overlook in that movie can’t be overlooked in this one. Now, I know that school integration was the key focus of the charrette in Durham. Whether or not it was specific to the school that got burned down and moving the students to the all-white school, I couldn’t say. Maybe it was a generalized thing for all segregated schools. I haven’t done the research for that, but let’s say that this is exact and it was just about one school’s body of students being integrated into one other school. Now you have actual history. Real people that could potentially be dragged through the mud. The story should be about those students, and Ann Atwater is their voice. Understandable, considering that her own children went to this school in question and she’s a recognizable civil rights activist. However, Ellis should not factor as heavily in this story as he is. Yes, it’s a hard sell to showcase how he was integral to the integration and it’s important to show his change in character so it doesn’t come out of nowhere by the end, which does in all fairness, mean that he needs screen time. But it can’t come at the cost of what this movie should be about; the students of the school and the hard-fought efforts of Roughhouse Annie. Ellis needs to be an important supporting character, not the star. The only way this movie could get away with that is if they left out the charrette and went the route of GREEN BOOK by making a self-contained, stake-less story that strictly focused on Atwater and Ellis’ friendship.
At the end of the day, I can understand seeing this on some worst lists at the end of the year, and you’ll not hear me argue. With that said, this movie has a few things that I like about it. For one, the acting is really awesome. Henson is intense, and for all that I disagree with in terms of his prominence in the story, Rockwell is damn charismatic as Ellis. When he romanticizes the Klan, it almost feels too real, and his change of heart does feel genuine. Also, I think the world needs a little more Anne Heche because she totally stole the show for me. So I’ll never hate this movie the way everyone else will. I understand that it’s a fundamentally misguided film and focused on the wrong subject matter, but it’s not an objectively-speaking poorly made film. I don’t like it, I won’t watch it again, I understand the hate and even agree with it, but because I love both performances by the leads, I can’t hate it like that. As a recommendation, though, I say this is a hard pass. Not even worth a rental.
My honest rating for THE BEST OF ENEMIES: a weak 3/5
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