Director: Lee Daniels
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Robin Williams, Liev Schreiber, James Marsden, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Jane Fonda
Review Written By: Michael Dalton (Prime Minister)
The Butler is loosely based on a true story about a black man who served as a White House butler for numerous administrations. In the corridors of power during the civil rights movement he had to stay quiet and serve in luxury, as others of his race were being discussed and poorly treated. In this film the butler is played by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and named Cecil Gaines (The real life figure is in fact called Eugene Allen) and he struggles both professionally and personally, as his eldest son (Played by David Oyelowo) throws himself into multiple black power movements and the youngest (Played by Elijah Kelley) the war in Vietnam. Comparisons have obviously and fairly been made to Forrest Gump as these characters are, sometimes inexplicably and forcibly, present at many significant historical events.
The Butler is a film that breezes through U.S. and world history, mentioning yet never fully exploring the events. Early signs suggest a film that will reveal the inner workings of the White House yet the film never truly provides any genuine insight as to what it was like to work under these Presidents or be in the White House at these times. Significant events such as the Kennedy assassination, the Watergate scandal…they’re briefly mentioned or even just slightly alluded to in one short scene and then forgotten. Great actors play all the Presidents and it is a joy to see such a great cast however all these great actors are ultimately underused and reduced to one-note impersonations. Robin Williams gets virtually nothing to do as Eisenhower, John Cusack makes the most of his few scenes as Nixon and Liev Schreiber joyfully embraces the comedy of it all as Lyndon Johnson, whilst Alan Rickman nearly embarrasses himself with his wild accent and squinted to the point of being shut eyes as Ronald Reagan. All of these guys feel like they deserve their own movie playing their respective President and you feel that none of them ever truly get the chance to shine.
Forest Whitaker leads the film and gives a great performance as Cecil Gaines. A consistently superb actor, he has the necessary power and charisma to carry this film. Oprah Winfrey has received a lot of buzz for her performance, mainly because she’s Oprah Winfrey and the character appears to have a drinking problem. It’s a solid performance but nothing particularly special. It’s a great cast but apart from Whitaker and perhaps Oyelowo, none of them truly get the chance to shine. Lee Daniels directs the film well, although it feels very long, with it getting its points across without being too preachy, showing how far we’ve come and with its heart in the right place. Daniels constructs some very powerful sequences including a KKK attack and a scene, which intercuts between Whitaker working at the White House and his son with the Black Panthers. This is a film that has fleeting moments of greatness and overall is very solid, however it doesn’t always educate and entertain as it much as it should and wants to.
On a technical standpoint it is worth pointing out that the ageing make up is very well done and does not fall into the traps that many other movies that attempt to employ such a device and tactic have done. Overall The Butler is a measured, respectful work that has moments of greatness but overall is rather too labored, worthy and wasteful when it comes to its history to truly reach the brilliance it aspires to. It’s a film I want to and feel like I should like more but, when it comes to race and U.S. history, I feel as if I learnt and felt more watching Django Unchained and 42 than this. I support this film from a political standpoint and agree with the messages it portrays and am pleased to see a film with a majority black cast by a black filmmaker have so much commercial success in the United States. However divorcing myself from such things and looking at it is a film, it did bore me at times nd it is not a film I will be eager to revisit.
Movie Parliament Rating: MINORITY GOVERNMENT
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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