The Dallas Movie Screening Group

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Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Best of Enemies

The Best of Enemies is the latest cinema offering on the subject of social and political race relations. It is based on a book entitled The Best of Enemies. Race and Relations in the New South. It is set in Durham, North Carolina in 1971.

The film stars Taraji P. Henson as vocal single mother and African American civic/civil rights activist Ann Atwater, Sam Rockwell as gas station owner and Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis, Babou Ceesay as academic Bills Riddick, who is called in to conduct the community democratic intervention, Anne Heche as wife Mary Ellis, and finally Bruce McGill, of Animal House fame, as Carvie Oldham, who presides over much of the initial hearings and is tasked with settling the issues without further dividing the community beyond what it already is. Sam's role, character development and performance in this film is similar to that of his role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, but not nearly as dramatic., volatile or award worthy.

Ann initially assists renters with legal issues who are being taken advantage of by scrupulous landlords and raises her daughters. C.P. runs his business and Klan meetings and works at managing family life with three children at home and one in a facility for special needs. Periodically they clash in public settings and are well aware of what each other does in the community. It is clear there is no love lost between the two.

When a fire breaks out in the school for African American students, the need arises to find a solution for those students and it becomes apparent that integrating the two schools is a viable consideration although a controversial one. The two reluctantly co-chair a two-week community meeting or "charrette" to decide upon which direction a court-ordered school desegregation decree should go, which ultimately changes both of their lives.

The bulk of the story involves the impending political strategizing, experiences and preparations for the final vote as each side sizes up it voting members to see if 2/3 majority rule will prevail. Obviously one side is for it while the other is against it, so some swing votes , two, will be needed for passage.

The film is very well cast and the characters are well developed. The film is a nice mix of drama, comedy and character acting in a well planned setting which brings the year 1971 back to life on the screen. The score is peppered with hits of the time but they feel intentionally chosen and as a result, are more distracting than positive additions.

It is somewhat disconcerting how open and accepted the Klan is in the community among the White population although there are citizens who are unafraid to speak up and out against such belief systems as it is a time period where the world is changing despite threats of violence or payback from the other side. The Durham Klan is capable of property destruction and violence, as it sends its warnings out into the community.

Sadly the subject matter is still relevant and pertinent today.

The story line is based on real life events and real people but Hollywood does take it's dramatic liberties and research supports that the events are not 100% true to the actual history. But the two main players are very real as was their relationship before the "charrette" and after. The changes in their interpersonal relationship are quite enjoyable to watch unfold. What ultimately happens is very very predictable and expected. Happily, we do get a glimpse of the real players as the credits roll.
(Review by Cheryl Wurtz)

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