Reviewed by: David Cook—first time reviewer
Consequence of wrong worldviews
How the Gospel changes hearts
Ann Atwater “became a deacon at the Mount Calvary United Church of Christ.”
|Featuring:|| Sam Rockwell … Claiborne Paul Ellis
Taraji P. Henson … Ann Atwater
Babou Ceesay … Bill Riddick
Wes Bentley … Floyd Kelly
Anne Heche … Mary Ellis
John Gallagher Jr. … Lee Trombley
Alyssa Marie Stilwell … Waitress
Nick Searcy … Garland Keith
Bruce McGill … Carvie Oldham
Caitlin Mehner … Maddy Mays
Nicholas Logan … Wiley Yates
Jessica Miesel … Doreen
Ned Vaughn … Wilbur Hobby
See all »
See all »
“Change is worth fighting for”
It’s difficult to believe that only a few years before I was born, in my home state of North Carolina, the battle for school integration raged on. Robin Bissell tackles this story in his directorial debut “The Best of Enemies.” The historical drama specifically focuses on a community summit in 1971, debating school segregation in Durham, NC.
In purposeful coordination, the summit is co-chaired by a Civil rights activist Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) and a KKK leader C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell). Ann, a black woman, is a fiery and compassionate underdog. She refuses to quit, despite the countless obstacles in her way. C.P. is a white man with dogmatic prejudices. He sincerely stands for what he believes, but his own convictions are crumbling from within. As tensions rise during the summit, the two adversaries must cooperate to come to a final resolution.
In a dialog-driven drama such as “The Best of Enemies,” the acting is paramount, but this becomes its weakness through the performance of the lead protagonist. Taraji P. Henson (“Hidden Figures,” “Empire” TV series) needed to command the screen as this feisty Civil rights activist. Unfortunately, rather than becoming Ann Atwater, she comes across like a performer playing a caricature of a real person. Whether it’s her posture or audible grunts, it feels like an impersonation of the woman, rather than a true representation.
Conversely, Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Moon”—2009) absolutely becomes the cowardly, racist C.P. Ellis. Effortlessly, he allows us to understand the inner workings of this complex character. With a simple glance, we understand his disdain for another character, or his internal struggle with his personal beliefs.
The surprising, standout performance for me is Babou Ceesay (“Free Fire,” “Eye in the Sky”) as the summit chairman Bill Riddick. He manages to balance his character that is full of fear and insecurities behind his facade of a strong exterior. As he leads the contentious, diverse crowd, you can sense that he could self-destruct at any moment. This is a fine line to tread… and he nails it.
Though the film is encouraging the positive message of loving your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31) and loving your enemy (Matthew 5:43-44), it is not for the faint of heart. It has a PG-13 rating for thematic elements, language, and mild violence. The theme of racism is of the utmost importance to reflect upon, but will be difficult for some to stomach, especially the excessive use of the n-word.
Along with the racial epithets, there are multiple uses of the Lord’s name in vain. The violence is mild, but there is a single scene where a young woman is threatened with assault. The audience sees nothing, but the peril is tangible and will be very upsetting to many people.
I think a poignant aspect of “The Best of Enemies” is the fact that all the characters in the film consider themselves Christians. They go to church, sing gospel hymns, and read the Bible. Despite those facts, I imagine many of the characters do not have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, lacking His example of mercy and grace. Unfortunately, I think this may also be the case with many people that consider themselves Christians today.
Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer
Will all mankind eventually be saved? Answer
“The Best of Enemies” is rather predictable and too saccharin in the end. That being said, it is based on a true story, and, according to some brief research, remains true to the historical event. There are several amazing moments of cowardice, bravery, cruelty, and kindness. It’s not a perfect film, but it is as important today as when it took place in 1971.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.