A bevy of sterling performances and writer-director Robin Bissell’s crackling screenplay (based on Osha Gray Davidson’s nonfiction book, The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South) propel this civil rights-era drama into the arena of significant American political movies. In an ingenious, dynamic screen pairing, Taraji P. Henson stars as the iron-willed spitfire Ann Atwater, a black activist in 1971 Durham, North Carolina, who reluctantly agrees to chair a town summit on public school desegregation; the chameleonic Sam Rockwell plays her unlikely co-chair, C.P. Ellis, a good old boy racist who heads the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. They’re brought together by an organizer from Raleigh (Babou Ceesay) who specializes in the charrette, a collaborative workshop process in which ideological opponents can solve seemingly insurmountable problems by way of issue clarification, fact-finding, and prolonged close social contact. Through its fine ensemble cast the movie reveals the many gradations of the Durham community: on the side of entrenched white power are a wily politician (Bruce McGill), a smooth but steely town elder (Nick Searcy), and a hothead in a Johnny Reb cap (Wes Bentley), while the voices of moderation and change belong to a Vietnam war veteran (John Gallagher, Jr.), an open-minded black businessman (Gilbert Glenn Brown), and Ellis’s wife (Anne Heche). Comparisons will inevitably be made to Green Book for its upbeat vibe, but in terms of serious craft and admirable aspirations, this film is more in the league of 42 and Selma.