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The Best of Enemies is another white film about black pain

2019-07-25 14:14

The Best of Enemies takes an emotional true story and delivers it in an uninspiring manner. Phumlani S Langa is convinced that this film will miss out on any nominations at the Academy Awards. 

The Best of Enemies
Director: Robin Bissell
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Taraji P Henson, Babou Ceesay
2 stars out of 5

Any time a piece is set in the 70s and in the southeastern region of the US, you’d best get ready for something unsettling. The Best of Enemies stings even more because it’s based on a true story.

In North Carolina, the small town of Durham is fracturing under the duress of racial tension.

White people have this burning hatred for African-Americans and organisations such as the Ku Klux Klan only add fuel to the fire with their provocation, which inevitably begets intense resistance.

This story involving a strong civil rights activist by the name of Ann Atwater (Taraji P Henson) and a clan leader CP Ellis (Sam Rockwell) plays out like most of these events did wherever they may have occurred.

Both sides have factions that turn to a more militant approach as the hatred intensifies. A black school is burnt down, almost to ashes, not even halfway through the school year.

What happens next? Kids have nowhere to learn but at the white schools, which of course is a preposterous idea.

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The all-white town council is hardly bothered by the living conditions and complaints of the local black community, and town hall meetings around these issues reach a stalemate.

Enter a rather astute outsider with a fair method of arbitration. Bill Riddick’s (Babou Ceesay) charette, which is like a summit, is the only thing that can bring both sides together.

Atwater must co-chair a committee to vote for or against the desegregation of schools in Durham. Her co-chair is CP Ellis, who Rockwell plays perfectly.

Rockwell is really good at making you hate him. He’s the perfect antagonist and captures the true spirit of a moron who thinks they’re truly superior while participating in activities that involve gallivanting with their buddies draped in white sheets.

They made Henson look weathered as I imagine a person in Atwater’s situation might be.

The pair give themselves completely to the roles with subject matter which, on paper, you’d think would see them venturing towards Oscar terrain.

Unfortunately, little in the way of A-list direction is given by Robin Bissell.

Also, having a white director crafting a story of black pain does tie into the notion of history being authored by the victor.

This is probably why Bissell tries to limit what he does with this story and let his starring talent carry it.

The shots he makes use of are boring and even the few moments of laughter are shadowed by how dense this material can be.

It’s also staggeringly lengthy and even though this is a true story, the film lacks imagination. 

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August 25 2019