The Best of Enemies
It wasn’t that long ago that the Klan had enormous influence in this Country, and they still lurk in the shadows.
Agree with me or not, I consider Sam Rockwell to be the most provocative actor working today. His Oscar-winning role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) and nomination in last year’s Vice are memorable, but his sensational contribution to The Way, Way Back (2013) and his role as a sex addict working in a Revolutionary Way tourist attraction on the East Coast in Choke (2008) establish him as one of the stars shining each night in the Hollywood skies.
Here, Mr. Rockwell plays opposite to Taraji P. Henson in a recreation of the racial battle engulfing Durham, North Carolina in 1971. Rockwell plays C. P. Ellis, a local Ku Klux Klan leader who ends up in a public debate with Ms. Henson’s Ann Atwater, a take-no-prisoners civil right activist. Initially hating one another, they are slowly drawn together in a film that gives us all a history lesson on racial discrimination in our country.
The film pulls no punches, and Rockwell’s Ellis commonly uses the “n-word” publicly as well as in private. When a school housing black children is severely damaged in a fire, a controversy emerges on whether black and white children should be permitted to go to the same school. The Klan views this as an easy answer, and here is where Ms. Henson’s Atwater captures everyone’s attention.
With Durham left in a serious divide, a program is formed called a Charette to debate this issue publicly where six members on each side of the argument are made a part of a panel. Babou Ceeseay is perfect playing Bill Riddick, an out of state organizer who has conducted Charettes before. It is fascinating to watch how harsh arguments are vocalized as six black community members sit to his left and six white local activists sit to his right at the table.
Rockwell is marvelous at all times, particularly interacting with his wife Mary, played in an earnest fashion by Anne Heche. The fact that they have a severely emotionally and mentally damaged young son eventually serves as a bridge that he is forced to cross when Ms. Atwater comes to his assistance concerning the treatment of his child.
While Ms. Henson at all times holds your attention, she is so angry and vocal in nearly every scene that you begin to understand why many people, including supporters, develop a bit of dread when she arrives. However, Ms. Henson in the end demonstrates the talent she showed in Hidden Figures (2017) when she reaches the point of deciding that the Klan leader needed to be talked to whether you condemn his stance or not.
So see this film, as it will not be a waste of time.