Henson and Rockwell have chemistry, even if their characters are different activists.
I attended a special screening of “The Best of Enemies,” and one of the topics Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, writer/director Robin Bissell were discussing was that certain stories aren’t told so often. And yet, they make big impacts on the world. So sometimes, movies have to wake people up, with all respect to historians and book worms. Like “Hidden Figures,” for example, when it revealed that African-American women were able to do math in order for the Apollo 11 mission to succeed.
Now, I’m talking about “The Best of Enemies,” which is based on the true story about Civil Rights activist Ann Atwater and former KKK leader C. P. Ellis had to work together in order for school desegregation to work out in the early 70s. The location is Durham, NC, and after an electrical fire destroys an African-American school, the community must decide if their students can finish off the school year at an all-white school. Obviously, this is a mixed decision. Why? You know why.
Henson plays Ann Atwater, and she’s given some outspoken dialogue, the kind that would make the actress worthy in a Spike Lee movie. She claims she had to get the Ann Atwater look and feel with the hair and integrity.
And Rockwell plays C. P. Ellis, who reveals his family life, outside his KKK community. He has a mentally disabled son in a psychic hospital, and he runs a gas station. And when he and Atwater meet, they get at each other’s throats, but eventually, they end up helping each other with their own problems. There’s a reason the title is “The Best of Enemies.”
Given the notes that Henson was in “Hidden Figures” and Rockwell was in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Best of Enemies” doesn’t compare to either of those films. Some of the subplots tend to be a bit much, like KKK members threatening a white girl (Caitlin Mehner), who’s sleeping with an African-American man. This part was a little irritating to me, but I know that’s how life was.
But even in its downfalls, the movie has high spirits when it comes to telling this teamwork between two enemies. It’s about fighting for what you believe in, and it’s about changing your perspectives.
Writer/director Robin Bissell is best known for producing such films as “Pleasantville,” “Seabiscuit,” and “The Hunger Games.” In “The Best of Enemies,” he shows faith in retelling the story, even when he met the real Ann Atwater before her death in 2016. This is an interesting true story, and the movie does a solid job telling it.