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The Best of Enemies (2019) - Blu-ray Review

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The Best of Enemies (2019)

The new film starring Sam Rockwell and Taraji P. Henson called The Best of Enemies is about finding common ground and learning to overcome our differences. Certainly a noble idea that could serve us all quite well in these divisive and contentious times. It's just too bad that the film's impact never quite exceeds its intentions.

The true-life drama tells the story of C.P. Ellis (Rockwell) and Ann Atwater (Henson), one the “Exalted Cyclops” – whatever that is – of the Durham, N.C. Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, the other an African-American civil rights activist and thorn in the side of every Durham resident who wants things to remain the way they’ve always been. In real life, the two saw past their differences and eventually became best of friends. Lifelong best of friends, in fact. An unlikely story for sure, but as told in The Best of Enemies, it simply isn’t a very interesting one.

"An unlikely story for sure, but as told in The Best of Enemies, it simply isn’t a very interesting one"


The year is 1971 in the American south where races still live divided, black and white children still attend separate schools, and grownups see little reason to mingle with those who live on the other side of the tracks. And with the specter of the KKK looming over the town, infiltrating its city council, and intimidating its places of business that allow African-Americans, there’s very little room left over for integration as ordered by the court in Brown vs. Board of Education. That is, until the fire.

When the elementary school attended by the town’s black children is damaged in a fire, the city is forced to decide where those affected students will go to school; either make do in their own school devastated by the fire, or become integrated with the students at the white school.

Naturally, the town is divided and can’t reach a viable solution. So, in steps the NAACP – specifically Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) – with its court-ordered mediation process that will form a special community council to discuss the issues for ten days, and eventually take a vote on the school’s integration. Naturally, Riddick selects the totally incompatible C.P. and Atwater as the quorum’s co-chairs. Cue the toxic relationship.

But a funny thing happens on the way to the charrette. C.P. and Atwater, now forced to engage in civil discourse about a shared concern, soon discover that they have more in common with each other than both initially thought. Just imagine that!

Although the real-life Atwater and C.P. really did become life-long friends, that real-life outcome is far more believable than the film’s insipid depiction. Undoubtedly, there was a catalyst for the turning point in the relationship between the two that allowed them to explore common ground and eventually reach a point of mutual respect. But what was that turning point? If we are to believe writer/director Robin Bissell, the mean-spirited, crusty old C.P. had but one soft spot: his children. It is only when C.P. begins to understand that African-Americans also fear for the well-being of their children that it dawns on him that we are all human. *eye-roll*

Though Rockwell seems to be pulling from the same place that brought him an Oscar in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Best of Enemies simply isn’t written well enough to allow us to buy into C.P.’s sudden change of heart. In addition, it is really difficult to find much sympathy for such a vile, disgusting, contemptible monster. And no, giving him a son with Down Syndrome doesn’t change that. It only brings glaring attention to the laziness of Bissell’s script. The Best of Enemies (2019)

But there’s a bigger, more deeply rooted problem that dogs The Best of Enemies. By placing the majority of his story’s focus on C.P.’s sudden change of heart, he is asking us to like his movie about an extremely unlikable character. We are never allowed to spend time with and really get to know Ann Atwater, who was on the right side all along. Atwater was the catalyst for change in Durham. She’s the one we want to learn about. Sure, she could never be described as subtle and undoubtedly possessed very few MLK-like qualities. In fact, the strong-willed activist became known as “Roughouse Annie” in Durham government circles. But Ann Atwater is the one with the story to tell here. And we hardly get to know her.

That’s not a knock on Henson’s performance. She is excellent here. As is Rockwell and most of the remainder of the cast, including Anne Heche as Mary Ellis, C.P.’s milquetoast wife, and Ceesay whose physical presence alone very nearly steals every scene he’s in.

As producer of such award-winning films as Seabiscuit, Pleasantville, and The Hunger Games, Bissell undoubtedly knows a good film when he sees one. Sadly, it’s his lifeless script that lets everything down in The Best of Enemies. He telegraphs his moves and never earns our honest emotions with any amount of genuine heartfelt moments. And though we know where this odd couple story is going before we even walk into the theater, neither the destination nor the journey are particularly all that interesting.

2/5 stars

The Best of Enemies (2019)

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Universal
Available on Blu-ray
- July 2, 2019
Screen Formats: 2.39:1
Subtitles
: English SDH; Spanish
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; two-disc set; DVD copy; iTunes  digital copy; slipcover
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Universal does a bang-up job with their handling of the 1080p, 2.39:1 transfer of Best of Enemies that comes in a fine blu-ray + DVD + Digital edition housed in a plastic case and slipcover. It's just a shame that the movie itself isn't any better than it is. Though scant on extras and bonus material, Universal's love for the film shows with a nice release that features great attention to both the audio and video portions of the film.

Video
Visually, The Best of Enemies is purposefully a drab affair with muted colors that perfectly match the film's dour subject matter. After all, these were not very happy times in American history. However, everything is clear and crisp with sharp edges and imagery that holds up well, even in the film's darker interior shots. This is not necessarily a film that needs 1080p to shine (if you are buying into the message), but the grand effort by Universal for this culturally important films is much appreciated.

Audio
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, though handled nicely, simply isn't something to write home about. That's not Universal's fault however, as Bissell's film is a dialogue-heavy affair that stays appropriately situated within the center channel. Dialogue is crisp and clean, yet gives way when the film's soundtrack takes over. Hearing David Bowie's Queen Bitch, Bill Withers' Grandma's Hands, and Al Green's Tired of Being Alone fill the room is unquestionably the star of the audio show. Crank it up!

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None.

Special Features:

Not much here folks save for a couple of short interviews and a lengthy documentary.

  • Make a Connection (01:46) - A fluffy EPK piece featuring interviews and discussions with Henson, Rockwell and the two real-life people they portray on the screen. Contains some interesting stills and footage from the actual events.
  • Ann Atwater (02:20) - Taraji P. Henson talks to the camera about the real Ann Atwater and what provided the inspiration for her role as the firebrand activist at the heart of the story. Also contains some snippets of Rockwell and the real Ellis who provide some insight. Never gets in-depth enough to be of much interest.
  • An Unlikely Friendship (34:46) - A fascinating half-hour documentary produced, written, and directed by Diane Bloom that features interviews, stills, and footage of the real-life figures from the movie who guide us through the mindset of themselves and of the people and the events that changed the hearts and minds of the citizens of Durham, North Carolina in the '70s. By far, the best feature of the bunch. In fact, I enjoyed this more than I did the film itself.

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 2/5 stars
  Video  3/5 stars
  Audio 4/5 stars
  Extras 2/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

3/5 stars

The Best of Enemies (2019)

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, racial epithets, some violence and a suggestive reference.
Runtime:
133 mins
Director
: Robin Bissell
Writer:
Robin Bissell
Cast:
Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Babou Ceesay
Genre
: Drama | History | Biography
Tagline:
Change is worth fighting for.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Mama, where we gonna go to school, now?"
Theatrical Distributor:
STXfilms
Release Date:
April 5, 2019
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
July 2, 2019
Synopsis: Based on a true story, THE BEST OF ENEMIES centers on the unlikely relationship between Ann Atwater (Henson), an outspoken civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis (Rockwell), a local Ku Klux Klan leader who reluctantly co-chaired a community summit, battling over the desegregation of schools in Durham, North Carolina during the racially-charged summer of 1971. The incredible events that unfolded would change Durham and the lives of Atwater and Ellis forever.

The Best of Enemies (2019)

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