The Best of Enemies Review - Jarring Reality, Compelling, Powerhouse Performances

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The Best of Enemies, from STX Films, presents the true story behind school integration in Durham, North Carolina, after a school fire sets an immediate order to integrate in motion and with it forces a showdown, of sorts.

Directed by Robin Bissell, The Best of Enemies stars Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Babou Ceesay, Anne Archer, Wes Bentley, Nick Searcy, Bruce McGill, John Gallagher, Jr., Nicholas Logan, Gilbert Glen Brown, Caitlin Mehner, Dolan Wilson, Kendall Ryan Sanders, Ryan Dinning, Charles Orr, Ned Vaughn, Charles A. Black, Aaron K. Smalls, Lucius Baston, Susan Williams, David Plunkett, McKenzie Applegate, Brody Rose, Carson Holmes, and introducing Kevin Iannucci as Larry Ellis.


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The film begins with voice over as man, whom we later find out is the real C.P. Ellis, played by Sam Rockwell, talking about his indoctrination into the Ku Klux Klan. His experience, almost spiritual, as he describes his conversion into the brotherhood, he was so moving he cried. His KKK membership card was so precious to him, he carried it in his wallet, from that day forward.

We we meet C.P. he is leading the Klan meeting. He speaks with words of conviction, sincerity, and genuineness as he believes the creed that has controlled him for the better part of his adult life. Tonight, he is closing the meeting.

We also meet his two right hand men Floyd Kelly, played by Wes Bently, and Wiley Yates, played by Nicholas Logan. Tonight, we see he is needed as they take care of a "thing." A woman has negro friends and the neighbors are complaining. The boys arrive to show her the error of her ways.

With that we move into an office with Ann Atwater, played by Taraji P. Henson, sitting in a lawyer's office with a young-women who is forced, in 1971, by her white landlord to live in squalor.

That night at the city council meeting, Ms. Atwater shows up armed with 73 other infractions. She is shown no respect; board members turn away from her, the Klan shows up in mass to take all the seats.

Ann Atwater, we find out is the town fixer. She runs Operation Breakthrough, and in 1971, Durham is a separate and not equal city. The blacks are regulated to the east side and the white, to the rest. Nearly every white male is a part of the Klan, either openly or like the Durham Mayor, Carvie Oldham, played by Bruce McGill, in secret.


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C.P. runs a filling station and when the mayor wants to pass info, he stops by for a fill up, unfortunately he doesn't pay and C.P. still refuses to sell to anyone other than white.

The money at the Ellis household is tight. C.P. and Mary Ellis, played by Anne Hache, have three children at home and we find out he has a son, Larry, who has Downs Syndrome played by Kevin Iannucci, who is cared for in a facility.

A fire in the colored school has forced the issue of school integration to the forefront and as it is an election year, the NAACP has brought an "Immediate Order to Integrate." Every politician punted and finally called on Bill Riddick, a colored man from northern North Carolina who has been very successful leading what is called a Charette, bringing two opposing sides together to find common ground and set forward a series of proposals and by laws.

Ann Atwater, President of Operation Breakthrough and C.P. Ellis, President of the Klan were both asks to co-chair.

Each of these two groups said the Charette was a fact-finding mission. Led by Riddick, the two sides, each with a defined opposing purpose set out on this two-week odyssey with the life and all its surprises, wars, and battles popping up.


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The Best of Enemies is a powerful film with a message of hope, of help, of the changing power of Christ. The God fearing, southern folks, believed ending each meeting with songs of worship would ease the tension of this deeply and harshly divided city and the violence of years of the Klan hate, and like in the Old testament, would bring the walls, of generational hate, tumbling down.

Sam Rockwell and Taraji P. Henson drive this film with strong, unwavering commitment to the character from the mannerism, the walks, the body language, the southern drawl and each with a different accent even as they are from the same region. The male and female accent, and negro and white accent, are different and delivered differently.

The cast is impressive, the reactions as the two sides meet, the hooded Klan robe and all it represents and the belief, unspoken in dialogue and presented in song, that God, will keep them.

Rockwell's character has a prayer scene in the beginning and it was impressive as he spoke genuine Christianese, the language of Christianity, the right words, the right rhythm, he hit the mark and if one never heard the hate rhetoric that followed, the deception of mind and doctrine, it would be easy to lead the lonely, the disenfranchised, those seeking a community, into the Klan fold.


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The Best of Enemies showcases Ms. Henson and Mr. Rockwell's depth. Another actor who deserves mention is Kevin Iannucci, local from the Raleigh area and himself born with Down's Syndrome, his performance, which called for him to be nearly catatonic at times and wild at others, was impressive.

The Best of Enemies is extraordinary. I'm back to the character driven performances, as we hear from the real Ann Atwater and the real-post Charette C.P., we find two characters so unique and distinctly opposite who by an evil act were forced together and found gold.

The Best of Enemies is outstanding, extraordinary and special. It opens April 5, 2019. See it.

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