It’s helpful to go into The Best of Enemies with few expectations. This won’t be the best movie you see all year, but it won’t be the worst either. It’s just…adequate.
The film, set in 1971 North Carolina, focuses on a civil rights activist and a local KKK leader who form a highly unlikely friendship. Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) and C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell) are called upon to co-chair a community summit (aka a charette) about school desegregation. Of course, from the start they hate each other. Slurs are thrown around by both sides. But over the course of the summer they grow to sorta kinda like each other. Big emphasis on sorta.
If this wasn’t a true story, I’d say it could never have happened in a million years. And really, the wild premise is the best thing about the movie. I had no idea this small part of history existed. Too bad the script doesn’t help to flesh it out better.
This could have been a great historical drama with equal focus on Ann and C.P. I would have liked to learn more about Ann and her life, beyond being an activist for her community. Instead, so much of the movie is devoted to C.P.’s journey. This means a lot of focus on the Klan. Which translates to several scenes with racists being racist. What’s the point? You don’t have to convince me that these are disgusting people. One Klan meeting would have sufficed. Also, the film feels very long, moving at a glacial pace. Not playing the same bigoted beat over and over would have gone a long way to help that.
Henson and Rockwell are fantastic as usual. They both deliver strong performances. Anne Heche also stands out in her role as C.P.’s wife. But I wish they had better material to work with here.
Some are going to argue that this movie is another Green Book or The Help. There are similar themes for sure. But The Best of Enemies can’t live up to the movies that came up before it. And it will surely be forgotten by the time award season comes around, unlike its counterparts. But if a moviegoer is looking for a fairly entertaining film to fill their matinee slot, again, this will be adequate.