Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Wes Bentley, Babou Ceesay
Director: Robin Bissell
There’s just something about a movie where you know exactly what’s going to happen but still like the journey along the way that really moves me. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen this story done plenty of times before and honestly done much better, but Best of Enemies is strong enough where it ends up on the positive end of the spectrum. Anytime you have two talented actors such as Henson and Rockwell, you know you’re in a position where you can easily make a solid movie and that’s exactly what Best of Enemies does.
The film follows Ann Atwater (Henson) a local civil rights activist who constantly fights for what she sees as justice and clashes with the leader with the town’s Ku Klux Klan C.P. Ellis (Rockwell). When the school for black students burns down, the issue of desegregating the schools come up and the town is split on the issue and creates a committee to discuss the issue and ultimately decided whether or not the schools should desegregate. The thing that really sticks out about this movie is the chemistry between Henson and Rockwell. When these two have scenes together, you can legitimately believe that they despise each other and while wanting to see their side win would also love to see the other side lose. As they spend more time together, you begin to see that two merely want what they perceive as best for their friends and families regardless of the way that they frame it. Even the people who have more malicious intentions such as C.P.’s superiors in government and in the Klan do what they do with the intention of maintaining the status quo and keeping them in a position of power. This leads me to the other thing the film does very well, it does a fantastic job of humanizing the antagonist and showcasing him as having horrible beliefs but to some degree good intentions. The film establishes very early on that C.P.’s views are abhorrent and have no place in a successful society, but then we learn more about his background and his family and we see a person who is more morally gray than he is black or white. While this is going on, we see people who refuse to see outside of their worldview and the people who are affected by this. As C.P. is introduced to different worldviews and starts to see people as other than stereotypes, it gives me hope that someday this metamorphosis will spread to others around the world. By having an actor like Rockwell in this role who has relevant experience from his time in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, the movie immediately establishes credibility and creates a character that we can empathize with due to our own moments of weakness. Sure not all of us go out and become our leader of the KKK, but if you’ve ever had an unjustified stereotypical thought in your life you can begin to understand where C.P.’s thought process comes from. The main point of the movie is that racism typically comes from ignorance and a lack of exposure and understanding and even though the story can feel a bit exaggerated at times, it still proves a very valuable point in an appropriate environment.
Overall, STX Films made a very poor decision by having this go up against Shazam! and Pet Sematary in its opening weekend. This is a solid movie that I think more people should see compared to the amount of money it made. Maybe a January or February release would’ve seen this movie and ended up appreciating it, but for what we got, The Best of Enemies is a fine contribution to the first half of 2019 and is probably better than it really should’ve been.
Overall Score: 6/10