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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Best of Enemies

“Escape Plan: The Extractors” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

I like it when I learn a new term from watching a movie. In the case of “The Best of Enemies,” the term is “charrette.” This is a gathering of community members to discuss an issue. There is a moderator, a chairperson for either side of the issue, and a “senate” of six members on each side who vote on the issue after all deliberation is heard. A two-thirds majority must be reached, meaning that eight “Yes” votes are needed for a resolution to pass.

The charrette, and the issue that brought it about, is at the heart of “The Best of Enemies.” The movie wastes no time in introducing sassy, no-nonsense Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson), a leader in the black community who organizes their struggle for justice in segregated Durham, North Carolina, in 1971. Her opposition is C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), local gas station owner and the president of the local chapter of the KKK who has no qualms about firing shotguns into a white woman’s house for the audacious “crime” of dating a black man. The inciting incident: A fire at the all-black elementary school. The black children need to finish up the year somewhere, which brings up the question of school integration. This question of school integration brings mediator Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) down from Raleigh to sort out the issue. His method to resolve the conflict and decide on integration is the charrette, with Atwater as chairperson on one side and Ellis as chairperson on the other.

What’s striking about Atwater and Ellis, after finding out what they do, is finding out who they are—and how similar they are to each other. Both of them have hardened viewpoints that represent their respective sides. Both of them treat their families well and care for their children as best as they can. Both of them need to get over their racial hatred that causes them to see the other person as the “other” so that they can work together. I expected this to be the portrayal of Ellis, and was pleasantly surprised that Atwater was treated with the same warts and all fairness. I appreciated “The Best of Enemies” for not treating her like some kind of saint and victim. The word “cracker” flows from her lips just as easily as the n-word flows from his, and as Riddick very correctly critiques her in one scene, she’s “All talk and no listening.” What this all means is that this movie centers around not just one, but two well-written characters who have internal and external obstacles to overcome. The fact that this movie is based on a true story surely helps.

The point of the charrette is to examine all sides of an issue. In doing so, the movie itself presents both viewpoints. “The Best of Enemies” is an amazingly fair, non-polarizing, non-biased movie that seeks to objectively look at a historical event from all angles. Just when I thought Hollywood has completely abandoned intelligence and maturity, a movie like this comes around to prove me wrong. And I am happy to be proven so with a movie this good. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Escape Plan: The Extractors

If you make the mistake of watching “Escape Plan: The Extractors,” here is some advice: Start the movie, then walk away and go to the bathroom, get a snack, text someone, adjust your couch cushions, or do something for the minute or so that the myriad of production company logos appear on screen, one after the other. I am sure your time can be better spent. Or maybe watch them all and chuckle, since the seven or eight (I lost count after five) production and distribution companies involved in this movie serve as a ripe parody of the current state of moviemaking, where so many sources are needed for financing. It’s more irritating than funny though.

Sad too, considering that so many companies backed such a bland and uninspired product. With the exception of some cool kung fu fighting in the beginning, “Escape Plan: The Extractors” is an exercise in genre banality, with nothing going for it in terms of cleverness or originality. Sylvester Stallone collects a paycheck for going through the motions as Ray Breslin in this third installment of the franchise, and Dave Bautista, who clearly has a good agent, manages to minimize his screen time in this dreck, only popping up when convenient for the plot.

“Escape Plan: The Extractors” is a 97-minute movie that feels so much longer simply because it drags. We’ve seen it all so many times before. Maybe we haven’t seen it in the weird sepia-tone many of the interior prison scenes are shot in, but we’ve seen it. It’s been better too. Skip it.

More New Releases: “An Acceptable Loss,” political thriller starring Tika Sumpter and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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