With Some Very Good Acting;
Sequels have been greenlit quickly before, but color me surprised that Green Book 2 arrived in theaters two months after its parent film win Best Picture. That is some impressive turnaround time and proves how efficiently the Hollywood machine can run sometimes.
Ok, so that’s not entirely fair, but it’s also not entirely inaccurate. You’ve seen this movie before and seen it recently. Another story lifted from real history featuring strong-willed black and white protagonists working together, following a formula and learning from each other just in time for the credits to run and the audience to feel good about the progress society has made. Except once again, we have a movie about the black struggle being told almost exclusively through the eyes of white character.
The issue of school integration was a major one, and when an elementary school for black children caught on fire in Durham in 1971, it was forced to the forefront. How could these kids be ensured a safe, effective learning environment? How would the parents fight this battle and comfort their children at the same time and what kind of emotion would that bring? Those questions are largely ignored so we can see the Klu Klux Klan in smokey dive bars, just to drive home the point of CP’s gradual transformation. Yes, the Klan is evil but he grew and changed and isn’t racist anymore. Yay! But what about the kids? Aren’t they supposed to be the point…?
CP Ellis and Ann Atwater were very real people who forged a lifelong friendship after the charrette on school integration. It really did change Ellis and make him a better person, so I don’t mean to marginalize that when I say this feels like a dishonest film to me. It could have been much more, a study on the issue and the effects on the lives of the community, a microcosm of real issues still faced to this day. Instead, it’s a paint-by-numbers White Savior narrative that doesn’t do justice by its subject.
Having said that, the two leads are great. Sam Rockwell is as good as he always is, taking advantage of a script that focuses its microscope on his character. He is given a lot to work with and displays his range impressively. Taraji P Henson gives another strong performance as well, though Bissell should have given her equal focus. Atwater may well have been fierce and stubborn, but Henson isn’t given enough time to show more sides of her.
I had no issues with things like direction, editing and photography, all of which were nothing special but not offensive, either. It was a solidly made film with some great actors giving it their all, but the intentions behind the script rang false. With a change in focus, this could have reached much greater heights. There were a lot of films last year that dealt with hard-hitting racial issues (The Hate U Give, Monsters and Men, Blindspotting, BlackKklansman, etc) that were much better at dealing with real issues, drawing genuine emotion and not feeling like they were cranked out of the Hollywood Movie Generator.
The Best of Enemies is Written and Directed By Robin Bissell
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