Movie Review - Best of Enemies

During the 1968 political party conventions and the run-up to the U.S. presidential election, ABC News hired William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal to do ten, nightly debates on television. Buckley who ran for mayor of New York City would argue the right-wing or conservative point-of-view and Vidal who ran for Congress representing New York state would argue the left-wing or liberal point-of-view. This documentary, produced and directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon, analyzes those debates, the environment that prompted and perpetuated them, as well as the men involved and what was driving the two.

Both Buckley, the founder and editor of the National Review magazine, and Vidal, the novelist and screenwriter, are deceased. Buckley died in 2008 and Vidal died in 2012. Therefore, Neville and Gordon replay moments from all ten encounters, but they incorporate writings from Buckley and Vidal in which they comment on the debates. Those writings are read as if narration by Kelsey Grammer as Buckley and John Lithgow as Vidal. Neville and Gordon also interview close friends and family members of Buckley and Vidal to give us a sense of the two, as well as biographers and analysts to comment on the men and the era to give a comprehensive view of it all.

Neville and Gordon come to a conclusion that's pretty plain. They directly state that conclusion at the end, but it's a conclusion that most people interested in this movie would or could reach half-way through it. Having that conclusion be stated is like hitting those people over the head. It's drumming a beat that's unnecessary. Seeing the clips from the Buckley-Vidal debates and cross-cutting or juxtaposing those '68 debates with clips from CNN's Crossfire or FOX News in prime-time is all the summation that the movie needed.

If anything, it's astounding to see how the Buckley-Vidal debates set the precedent for the cable or 24-hour news channels. It's also pretty astounding how the issues debated in '68 are similar if not the same to the issues debated today. One such issue surrounded the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which echoed recent protests this past year following incidents like the one in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland.

The movie does as good a job as it can within its frame-work to delve into the personalities and private lives of the two men. Particular attention is paid to Vidal's homosexuality. We get a brief rundown of both their upbringing, but not much more. Whether one wants more of their life stories is questionable. More is certainly wanted regarding the debates themselves, but seemingly Neville and Gordon picked out the very best moments.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some sexual content/nudity and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.


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