Best Of Enemies (2015)

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Critic Consensus: Smart, fascinating, and funny, Best of Enemies takes a penetrating -- and wildly entertaining -- look back at the dawn of pundit politics.

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In the summer of 1968, television news changed forever. Dead last in the ratings, ABC hired two towering public intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. William F. Buckley, Jr. was a leading light of the new conservative movement. A Democrat and cousin to Jackie Onassis, Gore Vidal was a leftist novelist and polemicist. Armed with deep-seated distrust and enmity, Vidal and Buckley believed each other's political ideologies were dangerous for America. Like rounds in a heavyweight battle, they pummeled out policy and personal insult-cementing their opposing political positions. Their explosive exchanges devolved into vitriolic name-calling. It was unlike anything TV had ever broadcast, and all the more shocking because it was live and unscripted. Viewers were riveted. ABC News' ratings skyrocketed. And a new era in public discourse was born - a highbrow blood sport that marked the dawn of pundit television as we know it today. (C) Magnolia

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Critic Reviews for Best Of Enemies

All Critics (116) | Top Critics (32)

This doc about the 10-night series, directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville (who won an Oscar last year for Twenty Feet From Stardom), provides an entertaining and, ultimately, depressing peek into TV at a pivotal moment.

Dec 4, 2015

What followed [in the debates] was not so much a clash of well-articulated ideas as a clash of highly articulate persons who regarded ideas as ammunition.

Aug 21, 2015 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

Did anyone win? Most say Vidal, since Buckley descended to physical threats. But really, has anyone won in any of this endless bickering?

Aug 14, 2015 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…
Detroit News
Top Critic

There is something about the siren call of the TV camera that can turn even big thinkers into brawlers. It was true then and it's true now, and "Best of Enemies" serves as a thoroughly enjoyable reminder.

Aug 13, 2015 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

For better or for worse, we'll never again see television quite like that documented in the compelling "Best of Enemies" ...

Aug 13, 2015 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Like its two subjects, "Best of Enemies" is lively and smart. Unlike them, it's even-handed.

Aug 13, 2015 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Best Of Enemies

An exciting analysis of the beginning of a major change in political journalism as it became a theater stage for egos, shown in this pivotal debate between two arrogant men who we can't deny were brilliant orators - even though I despise Buckley's political views and Vidal's aggressive ad hominem attacks.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

This documentary on the Buckley-Vidal debates is very compelling television but it suffers from not showing more of what it is documenting - the actual debates. We are led to believe that Vidal was "victorious" but perhaps a further viewing of the debates would allow for the audience to come to their own conclusions.

John Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

With no televised debates between the presidential candidates in 1968, it was left to ABC who was desperately seeking an audience or any kind of attention really to make up for that by having Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley debate opposing viewpoints in the studio during the two political conventions that year. What the illuminating and snappy documentary "Best of Enemies" does well is provide behind the scenes information. The most surprising snippets involve fresh angles on the Chicago Democratic Convention which had already been so exhaustively covered and here go beyond just mentioning Gore Vidal, Arthur Miller and Paul Newman sharing a car.(I feel there should be a punchline there...) With a documentary just last year about Gore Vidal, the more revelatory parts in "Best of Enemies" involve William F. Buckley who in archival footage seems polite and eager to listen to different points of view on his television show, and at least until he is pushed too far in the debates with Vidal. At the same time, I do have certain bones to pick, not the least of which is the accusation that Vidal had ulterior motives for saying something unkind about Robert Kennedy. For Buckley, the documentary probably overstates his influence on the Republican Party when in fact he was might have just been in agreement with the more conservative Republicans in power.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

½

Best of Enemies centers on ten televised debates in 1968 between William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal regarding the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Most of the conversation is heated but diplomatic. The climax is fashioned around what is essentially an infamous altercation of name calling between these two loquacious rivals. The discussion centered on freedom of speech in regards to American protesters displaying a Viet Cong flag. Their polite discourse ultimately condensed to a hostile exchange. Gore Vidal baits Buckley with a personal low blow. Buckley strikes back in kind. Buckley and Vidal, these intellectuals with aristocratic bearing, had been reduced to children. According to the documentary, both had a hard time ever forgetting the incident. It was the seed that inspired an article in Esquire that led to a lengthy lawsuit that took years to settle. Individually, these debates had profoundly affected their lives, but more universally it changed the landscape of political punditry. Given the mostly civilized, highbrow rhetoric seen here and what we are now accustomed to, I'd say things have deteriorated considerably. fastfilmreviews.com

Mark Hobin
Mark Hobin

Super Reviewer

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