Release Date(s)2019 (July 2, 2019)
Studio(s)Astute Films/Material Pictures/STX Films (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
The Best of Enemies is a civil-rights era drama based on actual events about the unlikely pairing of iron-willed black activist Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) with local Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell) as co-chairs of a committee in Durham, North Carolina to decide the future of school integration in their small town. The two are brought together by Raleigh organizer Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay), who’s had success with a collaborative process he calls the charrette, in which community leaders of different ideologies work together to solve seemingly insurmountable problems through fact finding, clarification of goals, and prolonged close social contact.
Ann is a fierce, outspoken champion for the ill-treated black people of the community who leads demonstrations and speaks up at council meetings. Ellis is a racist who espouses the hate-filled doctrines of the KKK. They are miles apart on what they want for the town but share a working class background. Gradually, in the course of the protracted charrette, they come together, trying to work out a solution for the schools. Both Ann and C.P. feel that the children of both races are not receiving a good education and are determined to make things better.
The Best of Enemies is about change, both in the racially incendiary era of the 1960s and 1970s and in individual people. Ann and C.P. regard each other as the enemy and find working together awkward and uncomfortable because neither of them has ever dealt with the “other side” in any constructive way. Both bring long-held prejudices, biases, and beliefs to the table and consider their task as near-impossible. Yet because they are determined to lead the community into an understanding of the issues and of what each faction wants, the process moves forward despite hiccups and setbacks.
Ms. Henson (Hidden Figures) is the fiery backbone of the movie. Made up and padded to resemble the real Ann Atwater, she wears a permanent scowl, as if daring anyone to challenge her. She’s loud, abrasive, and defiant. When a council member turns his chair away so he won’t have to face her, she spins the chair around and compels him to look her in the eye and pay attention. By contrast, Rockwell plays C.P. as quiet, reflective, and non-confrontational. Part of the “good ol’ boy” network of the South, he enjoys the status that the clan has given him and doesn’t relish this new role of co-leading a committee in which white and black members carry equal weight. The initial meeting between Ann and C.P. is tense and strained. Set to meet for lunch with Riddick and Ann in neutral territory, C.P. shuffles around the table where they are seated. Eventually, he pulls up a chair at a neighboring table, and the ice is cracked if not broken.
Ms. Henson and Mr. Rockwell elevate this film considerably. Through their fine-tuned performances, they convey the personal sacrifice their characters must endure and the responsibility they bear to their factions of the Durham community. The democratic process introduced by Riddick has given all those with a stake in the outcome a voice. No group is eliminated, marginalized, or diminished. The welfare of the children is at stake.
The Blu-ray, with a resolution of 1080p, is presented in the anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Visual quality is sharp. Durham exteriors nicely capture the early 70s look, and cars are appropriate to the era. Ms. Henson has been padded and wears simple print dresses throughout the film. Her face often has a perspiration coating to remind us that this is the South, it’s hot, and she’s usually worked up. The men, including C.P., wear work clothes and simple warm-weather attire. Bruce McGill, playing council member Carvie Oldham, is dressed more formally, particularly in a scene in which C.P. comes to Oldham’s home when he’s entertaining donors.
Audio is DTS-High Definition Master Audio 5.1. Overall, sound is good but otherwise undistinguished. Dialogue is recorded with clarity and captures the eloquence, concern, and seriousness of the issues being addressed. Rockwell adopts a slow, accented cadence that nicely mirrors the real C.P. (seen and heard at the end of the film and in the bonus featurettes). Ms. Henson’s Ann speaks fast, is usually loud and/or contemptuous in tone. When she shows a softer, caring side, we see she is more than bluster… she has heart. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided.
The 2-Disc Combo Pack contains the Blu-ray, DVD, and a Digital Code on a paper insert. Bonus features on the PG-13-rated Blu-ray release include three featurettes and a trailer. The film runs 133 minutes.
Make a Connection – This brief featurette relates the true story of how black activist Ann Atwater and white KKK leader C.P. Ellis joined forces in 1971 to deal with the question of school integration. Brief comments by Taraji P. Henson, Ann Atwater, and C.P. Ellis are heard.
Ann Atwater – Several clips are shown of the real Ann Atwater back in 1971 during the period depicted in the movie. Ann was “an icon of the black community.” As Atwater herself comments, “My job was to get problems solved.” C.P. Ellis comments that “she can upset the world with her mouth if she wants to.” These were two folks from opposite sides of the fence who came together in a tense time and formed a bond mainly because of their similar working class backgrounds. According to Atwater, “At the end of the day, love always wins.”
An Unlikely Friendship – Ten days in 1971 transformed the lives of two people and surprised a town in North Carolina. In Durham, in 1971, schools had not yet been desegregated, and were under a court order to integrate. This issue could have pushed the community to a breaking point. They organized a public meeting called a charrette to bring views together to find a solution. The co-chairs were the leader of the local chapter of the KKK and a black activist. Atwater’s sharecropper parents were active in church and taught their daughter the power of love. She eventually supported herself by doing domestic work and became a grass roots organizer, providing information to her community on welfare, housing, and job opportunities. C.P. Ellis’ father worked long, hard hours in a textile mill and often came home drunk. C.P. eventually scraped together enough money to buy a gas station but struggled financially. When he was inducted into the clan, he said to himself, “I finally made it.” Ann and Ellis grew up with an inherent distrust and hatred of each other’s race. At one point in their capacity as co-chairs, Ann said she wanted to cut off C.P.’s head. The real Bill Riddick speaks about the charrette and his role in putting it together. The idea was to assemble a microcosm of the community. Ann and C.P. became and remained friends for 30 years. C.P. eventually renounced the clan and what it stood for and went on to organize labor unions in North Carolina.
– Dennis Seuling