How you ask, can you possibly conceive the idea that a story born of such hatred could possible be sweet and touching. Well the answer to that lies in not only the story itself, but the powerhouse acting chops of both Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell, whom work so well together here to effortlessly to ignite a strong chemistry between the two in “The Best of Enemies”. This on-screen connection creates a film so monumental, and unbelievable, you almost forget it’s based on a true story.
Enemies follows the tale of Ann Atwater (Taraji P Henson), a civil rights activist in Durham, North Carolina, during the 1970s as she works with charm and determination to vouch for school integration. She is met with adversity in the shape of C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), a leader of the Durham chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
When the local black elementary school is severely damaged by a fire, the students are forced to continue learning in the damaged building, rather than be bused to the local white school. Hope seems lost in a town overwhelmingly dominated by the power and fear of the KKK. But in steps a man named Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) who organizes a ‘charette’ which is essentially a meeting for Durham citizens to voice their opinions on the issue of segregated schools and come to a decision. When Riddick chooses Atwater and Ellis as the chairpersons of the event, the film’s narrative of an unlikely friendship fully begins.
The only misstep for Enemies was the clunky writing at some parts, more so at the beginning before the narrative is fully developed. Some bits of dialogue sound rather cliche, as if they could’ve been lifted from any other period piece and inserted into the script. But director Robin Bissell distracts from that with technical directions that make the film realistic. One of the most interesting, well-made choices was in depicting the KKK: Rather than showing overdone scenes of the group terrorizing a black family’s home or something of the sort, klansmen are often shown bullying or harassing other white citizens of Durham who sympathize with black people
While Enemies is not a perfect film, the tale is so compelling and intriguing that you wonder why this story isn’t written in history books. It is a lovely depiction of a piece of history with a great, albiet predictable ending the film has a powerful message told in a style all will appreciate. I especially loved the video remarks by the real characters during the end credits noting the significance of Atwater and Ellis’ friendship, is timeless.
Screening: March 25th, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Film Independent
POST Q & A w/Taraji P. Henson & Robin Bissell
Henson is a lively speaker and noted all about her transformation to Atwater was very deliberate, especially with her physical appearance. Henson noted that somebody involved with the film contacted Tyler Perry to inquire about the prosthetic boobs for his well-known character, Madea.
“I was like, ‘this suit needs to effect the way I walk,’” Henson said. “‘I can’t look like I’m walking like Taraji. I really have to walk differently, move differently.’”
Rockwell’s character is a tad more complex, as he goes through more of an ethical, moral transformation. However, Rockwell manages to precisely wield Ellis’ mannerisms to progressively edge closer to his final form, peeling away to find layers of compassion within Ellis that were not initially obvious as themes of hope are evident throughout the film, as noted by Bissell.
“I have three daughters, and I hope they can be inspired by someone like Ann Atwater,” she said. “You can have an effect on the world and change the world if you really go out there and give it a shot, and I think Ann did that.”
“Forty-eight years later, not a lot has changed,” Bissell said. “We thought it did, or white people hoped it did … it’s not better. And so every once in a while, you need some water splashed on your face.”