Best of Enemies was released on April 5 and was directed by Robin Bissell.
The film is based on the true story of Anne Atwater (played by Taraji P. Henson) and Claiborne Paul (C.P.) Ellis (played by Sam Rockwell). Ellis is a segregationist who is president of the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). This takes place in 1972, at a time when racial tensions were high and honest leaders were hard to find. Atwater is a passionate activist who leads an organization known as Project Breakout which advocates for rights for the black population of Durham
In the movie, after a fire which destroys East Durham School, the two are invited to a charrette, a ten-day long meeting that allows the two opposing sides of an argument. The purpose is to come to a compromise in hopes of improving the education system and deciding whether the integration of black children should be allowed in a previously segregated school.
Despite a heated and controversial topic of the day, the movie keeps a serious and completely neutral stance, providing context and background for the situations. It deftly maneuvers through time to provide the audience with a work that is both informative and emotional.
Primarily, the acting in the movie is emotional and powerful. The audience can feel the emotions of the characters as clear as day. It carries significant weight and perfectly portrays the seriousness, concern and joy present in the scenes. The skill and experience of the actors is obvious due to the genuine expressions and dialogue. For instance, Atwater is known for her inspiring work attaining housing and progress aiding the poor and middle-class black citizens of Durham. Henson captures the indignation and injustice that Atwater feels when her pleas for equality are not heard.
Additionally, the friendship between the two characters seems nothing short of natural and the inspired sense of hatred is understandable just as easily. By incorporating smaller relationships and problems, the movie gives the audience a more realistic sense of the characters and makes them more human.
Despite having a runtime that is comparatively longer than most other films at about two hours, wary viewers might be discouraged from the film. However, the movie’s long runtime allows the producers to further establish the motives and rationales of the characters. This directly attributes to the strong, character-driven plot and progress.
Furthermore, the attention to detail found in the film is crucial to maintaining the setting of the film. The artfully designed clothing is detailed and tasteful. Combining this with the extensive sets improves the viewer’s immersion in the film.
In extension, the camerawork in the film is complementary to the sets, as many diverse places allow the designers to show off their varied skills. The film also uses wide shots to enhance the stunning visuals. The visuals were dramatic and stunning. Yet the subtle scenery is moving in its simplicity. One example of this is, turning a lawn into a moonlit action scene using lighting and the minimalistic nature of the piece. This dramatic and bare scene more deeply conveys the meaning and depth of the scene compared to what would be achieved using choppy editing and over-dramatic effects.
Moreover, the character development is undeniable, using raw emotion and actions influence the world around them at a constant and visible pace. Because the film is based on a true story, the characters have an endpoint and the audience knows how what the characters will believe at the end of the film. However, the movie aims and succeeds to show the shift of ideas in these two characters, and the transition proves to be smooth and comprehensive, encompassing the characters entirely.
Notably, the film cleanly incorporates real events in a clean fashion, providing a perspective that was based on real interviews with Ann Atwater and C.P Ellis before their passing. Small events in the film symbolize events that Atwater was recognized for in her life. One instance of this is during a council meeting, of which only white men were a part of, they would turn their chairs around so as to not listen to her. Undeterred, Atwater strode right up to the bench and turned their chairs back around. These moments foster curiosity in the viewers and attests to the research and attention that the producers have put into the film.
This action is just one example of the traits that made Atwater such a good activist and leader for civil rights. Atwater dedicated her life to aiding the underprivileged and Ellis had his entire ideology reversed, going on to do tours with Atwater talking about their relationship and how it came to be. He also became an avid union organizer and integrationist.
Ultimately, Best of Enemies is helping to shine light on an often misunderstood times in history. The film gives a voice to the positive events that occurred during the height of segregation vs. integration debates and the era of drastic leaps in civil rights that follows.
All in all, thanks to the emotional acting, well-devised camerawork, and true-to-life plot, the movie is a wild roller coaster of emotions and a great representation of a few figureheads who need a little more credit.