Robin Bissell’s The Best of Enemies (STX, opening today) isn’t a dramatic knockout or any kind of game-changer, and yes, a contrarian could describe it as an old-fashioned, over-simplified racial rapproachment period drama that isn’t woke enough, to put it mildly, and probably shouldn’t have been made because it was doomed to piss off the wokesters from the get-go.

But given the basic material and what it tries to do, The Best of Enemies is relatively decent. Really, it is. Somebody tell LexG.

Last night I bought my damn ticket to a 7:30 Hollywood Arclight showing. I went in with a sulking, eye-rolling, fuck-me attitude, but damned if this unassuming film didn’t half win me over. It doesn’t blind you with cinematic genius or audacity, but it’s a lot better than I expected it to be, what with the 48% Rotten Tomatoes rating and the general reluctance of STX to screen it for people like me. Why distribute an indie-ish, character-driven film if the plan is to basically hide it from the press?

I was mostly won over because I was so completely knocked out by Sam Rockwell‘s C.P. Ellis, a real-life gas-station owner and Ku Klux Klan cyclops who managed to turn some kind of corner during a 1971 conflict over integrated schooling in his home town of Durham and experienced…I hate the word “awakening” but it was apparently something in that realm.

Rockwell is always good in a low-key way, but this time he’s calibrated things just so, letting us share in a subtle but gradual character arc that really takes hold at the end. In the right way, I mean. Very little is traditionally “performed” or even visually signalled. You either detect the internals or you don’t.

I know I’m not supposed to succumb to racial fables like this because they’re regarded as a little too pat and preachy, but I sorta kinda did. I wasn’t knocked out or levitating but I was going “hmmm, yeah…not bad.”

I’m also not supposed to like The Best of Enemies because wokester critics (the same hardline Stalinists who took shots at Green Book all through Oscar season) heartily disapprove. Those guys can really go fuck themselves. Nobody has to jump up and down and cheer The Best of Enemies, but to put it down because it isn’t saying what they want it to say or because it’s too old-school or not forward-thinking enough or it doesn’t condemn the Klan characters enough…God, I hate these people.

I’m sorry but Bissell’s script is decently written as far as it goes. And the direction is plain and unfettered and doesn’t get in the way. To me the film didn’t feel the least bit false or phony-baloney except during the final scene. Yes, the Field of Dreams-like gas-station scene with the long line of cars. For all I know this may have actually happened.

Rockwell’s Ellis isn’t quite balanced out by Taraji P. Henson‘s portrayal of Ann Atwater, a real-life civil rights activist and single mom. Henson inhabits this steely character like a pro, but she’s doing so with a broad brush. I’m sorry but I’ve always been more of a less-is-more type of guy when it comes to performances. Atwater is given some texture here and there, but she’s basically a tough gunboat who won’t take any shit. Fine, whatever.

This is probably why the wokesters are giving The Best of Enemies failing grades. They resent that Rockwell has the meatier part, and that the film pays more attention to his character than to Henson’s, and because she doesn’t go through any profound changes or big dramatic moments — Atwater is more of a steady-as-she-goes, never-say-die type.

Until last night I’d never heard the term charrette, but now I have. It basically means “opposing parties need to sit down and talk it out and come up with a plan by way of a binding vote.”