Best of Enemies Movie Review
We live in an age where politicians like to scream at each other and pundits the same, everyone safely cornered in their own “bubbles of concern” and seemingly unwilling to talk to find compromise. But how is that different than politics of fifty years ago? The documentary Best of Enemies seeks to answer such a question, opting to focus on the television debates between hardcore conservative William F. Buckley and liberal Gore Vidal.
Best of Enemies is an interesting documentary that showcases two well spoken, hotheaded individuals who not only didn’t like each other, they literally hated each other, going at it on live television. To call the documentary anything more than “interesting,” however, would be unfair: its message only becomes clear during the closing credits, with little punch.
I expected the movie to concentrate more heavily on the actual television debates—as someone born in the 1980s, I knew nothing about the two subjects, nor had I seen these two men in action—but instead directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville spend half the film’s short runtime showing political pundits and academics telling us how important these guys were and why. Is the movie meant to be a commentary on the state of the current political state, or an exploration into what made these two men click?
I get the sense everyone involved wanted both, and Best of Enemies doesn’t deliver in that regard.
Still, serving as an answer to that second question, the movie thrives, using the televised debates and the commentary around them to shape these two larger-than-life characters, what drove them, and what led them to hate each other so very much. These were two men that, according to the film, literally feared what the other represented—the end to the republic as we know it—and that’s fascinating, to not only have two personalities who exude such hatred toward one another, but also to have them in the same room, on television, for the nation to see and listen to.
As a critique of modern politics, however, Best of Enemies didn’t resonate with me much; though the filmmakers intersperse some current clips—including one with Jon Stewart lambasting a guest for doing “theatrics, not debate”—to presumably show how things have changed, or stayed the same, over the last 50 years. It wasn’t clear to me what argument they wanted to make.
Ironic, given the film is all about having clear, definitive arguments.
Best of Enemies is a good documentary that explores some interesting subject matter, but it’s just that: nothing more, nothing less.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.