July 2, 2019  (Web Review)

The Best of Enemies

Universal, 132 min., PG-13, DVD: $29.98, Blu-ray/DVD Combo: $34.98, July 2

Reviewer rating: 2.0/4

In 1971 in Durham, NC, the elementary school serving the segregated black community suffers irreparable damage. So the question arises: where do the displaced black students go? Attending another nearby school would constitute integration, which is still a highly controversial concept even after the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. But that’s what volatile African American community organizer Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) wants, and she’s vehemently opposed by C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), the Exalted Cyclops of the local Klavern of the United Klans of America. Ellis is an avowed white supremacist so bigoted that he refuses to serve blacks who stop at his gas station. Enter urbane, soft-spoken Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay), arriving from Raleigh to conduct a 10-day series of mandated meetings (called a “charrette”) to prepare citizens to vote on school integration. Miraculously, Riddick convinces Atwater and Ellis to participate in hopes that they will compromise. Both remain steadfast in their beliefs but when Atwater helps Ellis’s institutionalized Down syndrome-afflicted son, the freeze between the pair thaws a bit—particularly when Ellis’s wife (Anne Heche) visits Atwater’s home to thank her for her kindness. Although based on a true story, adapted from the titular 1996 book by Osha Gray Davidson, first-time writer-director Robin Bissell is a bit heavy-handed with the material and it winds up feeling contrived (watching the archival footage during the credits is far more illuminating). Optional. [Note: DVD/Blu-ray extras include the behind-the-scenes featurettes “An Unlikely Friendship” (35 min.), “Make a Connection” (2 min.), and “Ann Atwater” (2 min.). Exclusive to the Blu-ray release are bonus DVD and digital copies of the film. Bottom line: a solid extra package for a disappointingly pedestrian film.] (S. Granger)