The Best of Enemies – Captivating Messages and Storytelling

The true story of the unlikely relationship between Ann Atwater, an outspoken civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis, a local Ku Klux Klan leader. During the racially charged summer of 1971, Atwater and Ellis come together to co-chair a community summit on the desegregation of schools in Durham, N.C. The ensuing debate and battle soon lead to surprising revelations that change both of their lives forever. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Arjun N. comments, “The Best of Enemies has some truly captivating messages and storytelling, but its presentation of the segregation debate can get lost with the lack of background insight. Still, the excellent performances here carry over some of the weaker writing.” Katherine S. adds, “I really enjoyed The Best of Enemies. The movie shows a lot of anger and humor between two enemies who oddly share very common goals in life – family, faith and education.”  See their full reviews below.

The Best of Enemies
By Arjun Nair, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

(L-R) Sam Rockwell, Babou Ceesay and Taraji P. Henson star in THE BEST OF ENEMIES

The Best of Enemies has some truly captivating messages and storytelling, but its presentation of the segregation debate can get lost with the lack of background insight. Still, the excellent performances here carry over some of the weaker writing. Anyone interested in docu-dramas might want to check this out.

The film centers on the most unlikely relationship between Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson), an outspoken civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), a local Ku Klux Klan leader. The two reluctantly battle over the desegregation of schools in Durham, NC during the one of the nation’s racially-charged turning points. C.P. slowly feels drawn towards Atwater’s commitment to her people and becomes a frenemy. Can love trump hate?

First, Taraji P. Henson, is fantastic as Ann Atwater with her acerbic nature, but heartfelt fight for the poor and oppressed. She respectfully handles the rebellious, yet kind-hearted nature of the real-life figure. But, the drama’s center comes from Sam Rockwell, as C.P. Ellis, who is my favorite character despite playing an initially despicable figure. His redemption is naturally done, and the messages never feel forced here. The two really work well off each other, and their chemistry is hilarious to watch. Babou Ceesay, as Bill Riddick, gives another great performance with his contributions to the segregation debate being another interesting learning experience.

Taraji P. Henson (RIGHT) stars in THE BEST OF ENEMIES

Robin Bussell spectacularly writes and directs with the events presented in a clear, chronological order. But the pacing can be lost amongst this, as the film really stalls when juggling multiple real-life figures. It’s the individual moments that stick, because she knows how to write human and relatable characters. The racial tension feels real here, as did the moments of unity. My favorite scene is the final verdict as the scene is filmed so well, leaving the audience unnerved at each person’s decision. Still, it’s C. P.’s monologue that sells the scene, which I just can’t spoil. Seeing is believing. However, in addition to many moments of rocky pacing, the movie’s focus on other characters, especially Atwater, is quite minimal and scattershot at times. C. P.’s development is forefront and that’s understandable given he is the most complex character. I would have loved to see more personal looks at other characters.

The message of this film is that love is the greatest asset in any debate. We can all learn to reconcile our difference and just love each other. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18 due to mature themes and racist language. The movie releases in theaters April 5,  2019, so check it out.

The Best of Enemies
By Katherine Schell, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

I really enjoyed The Best of Enemies. The movie shows a lot of anger and humor between two enemies who oddly share very common goals in life – family, faith and education.  The movie is based on a true story and shows the audience what life might have been like in the 1970s in North Carolina.

(L-R) Gilbert Glenn Brown, Taraji P. Henson, Nick Searcy and Sam Rockwell star in THE BEST OF ENEMIES

Ann Atwater is a poor, black single mother living in Durham, N.C. in 1971. C.P. Ellis is the president of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).  When the black children’s school is damaged by fire, Ann wants the black children to attend the same school as the white children and learns that the black children are not getting as good of an education.  Ann and C.P. then spend their time convincing others to be on their own side.

The acting is terrific.  Taraji P. Henson plays Ann Atwater and shows a variety of outstanding emotions from her voice, to her walk.  C.P. Ellis is played by Sam Rockwell and his acting is incredible also. I wanted to hate him, but still liked him because he is such a good father, especially to his special-needs son. Ann Atwater is my favorite character because she adds a lot of humorous comments right after saying something really serious.  My favorite part of the movie is the ending – but no spoilers here!

Sam Rockwell stars in THE BEST OF ENEMIES

The key message of The Best of Enemies is that change is worth fighting for.  If you see something that you think is wrong change it, even if it’s going to be really hard.  The movie has mild profanity, some violence and deals with a very serious topic – the inequality of segregation.

I give the movie a 4 out of 5 stars.  It is appropriately rated PG-13 and I recommend it for ages 12 to 18, as well as adults.  This movie opens in theaters April 5, 2019.

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