Sunday, June 30, 2019

Video review: "The Best of Enemies"

Sometimes a film works because of the performances more than the story. There’s nothing unpredictable about “The Best of Enemies,” a feel-good drama about the real-life episode in which a KKK leader and a black activist joined forces to abolish segregation in their community.

We know from the very start that C.P. Ellis will eventually recant his racist views and befriend Ann Atwater, a loud-and-proud African-American leader. It’s practically written in stone.

And yet, because these roles are occupied by Sam Rockwell and Taraji P. Henson, the result is a compelling movie that carries us through the inevitability of its plot.

The story opens in 1971 Durham, where blacks and whites still live very much apart. But when the “black” school is severely damaged requiring a months-long closure, an imbroglio begins after a judge punts on the decision to merge the schools. The result is a “charrette,” an old-fashioned council of community members who will listen to the evidence and vote on defacto desegregation.

Atwater is an obvious pick to lead the pro-integration side. Ellis is selected by the white power-holders to represent their stake and ensure that the vote goes down. The two are elected co-chairs, and immediately set out to clash.

But then they gradually get a chance to get to know the person behind the stereotype, and hostility gives way to growing respect, and even friendship. Despite his overt bigotry, Ellis is depicted as a man devoted to his family and community – or at least “his” half of it.

I just enjoyed watching Henson and Rockwell inhabit these characters. You won’t be surprised, but you may find yourself engaging with “The Best of Enemies.”

Bonus features are modest, and are limited to three documentary shorts: “Make a Connection,” “Ann Atwater” and “An Unlikely Friendship.”



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