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on November 20, 2013
THE BUTLER is a film which, for all its sentimental tone, nonetheless addresses the fundamental issue of civil rights, and whether the reforms of the Sixties have actually had the desired effect. It centers on the life of Cecil Gaines (Forrest Whitaker), who grew up on a plantation but spent most of his career in service at the White House. To his son Louis (David Oyelowo), Cecil is nothing more than a representative of "Uncle Tom" culture, spending his life in willing thrall to the white man. On the other hand Cecil manages to provide for his family and carve out a career; it is only late on in his life, when President Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman) offers him an opportunity to savor something that he has never previously experience, that he understands how little his masters have changed, ideologically speaking, since the days of racial segregation. This is the film's "aha-moment" - from then on Gaines devotes himself to the cause of equal rights. THE BUTLER brings out the ambiguities of the African American experience; how Gaines' life might be regarded as a form of "liberation," despite working for a succession of white Presidents; and how the Civil Rights cause (as symbolized by the Black Panther movement of the Sixties and Seventies) might not have necessarily aided the African American experience. The film contains a clutch of memorable performances: Oprah Winfrey is quite admirable as Gaines' wife Gloria, supported by Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr., in supporting roles. Whitaker is quite simply brilliant in the title role; he ages gracefully while always sustaining his self-respect. If he does not get Oscar-nominated for his performance, I'd be extremely surprised. A memorable cinematic experience.
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on January 14, 2015
I liked this story mainly for the historical perspective it provided..... until I looked it up and found out most of the story was made up and complete fabrications. I no longer like the movie. I feel duped (there are artistic liberties and then there are downright lies).

For those interested he didn't have a mom that was raped, he didn't have a dad that was murdered, he didn't run away and steal to survive, he didn't even grow up in GA or live in NC. He grew up in VA in a nice house and voluntarily left under normal circumstance to seek better employment. His wife didn't cheat or drink. He had no son that joined the Freedom Riders or was in the Civil Rights movement. He did actually have ONE son but he did not die in Vietnam. I think about the only thing that is true about this movie is that he was a butler in the White House. Everything else is completely fabricated.
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Lee Daniels' The Butler is something of a mixed bag. Had it been made twenty years ago, it might have stood on more original ground, but in 2013 it has a highly derivative feel to it, like what you'd get if you crossed Backstairs at the White House (a TV-miniseries from the 1980's that related the real-life experiences of a mother and daughter who worked as maids at the White House over a period of fifty years, starting with the Taft administration and ending with the arrival of JFK) and Forrest Gump where the life of a fictional character seems to cross paths with all the notable figures of his day.

It is important to emphasize that in spite of the impression the promotions for The Butler give, this film is in fact fiction. It is supposedly based on the life of a real-life White House butler named Eugene Allen, but other than the fact that Forrest Whitaker's character - a butler named Cecil Gaines - works at the White House for over three decades - almost nothing that happens in the film had anything to do with Allen's actual life.

Besides Whitaker's stand-out performance, the supporting cast are quite good as well, from Oprah Winfrey as Gaines' much put-upon boozed-up wife to Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Lenny Kravitz as Cecil's fellow staffers and Terrence Howard as a somewhat too familiar neighbor. David Oyelowo does a creditable job as Cecil's elder son, Louis, who takes the audience through almost every aspect of the black civil rights' experience, from joining the Freedom Riders and participating in sit-in protests at segregated diners to the later Black Panther movement and later still into the rising of black candidates for political office. The script, however, does not leave him a lot of room to be more than a symbolic character for the ear, but Oyelowo does manage to breathe some genuine individuality into the character which helps us to identify with the events he experiences.

A major drawback to the film however is the truly bizarre casting of most of the various Presidents of the era. Robin Williams' Eisenhower comes across more as a benign Elmer Fudd than the man who once commanded Allied forces during WWII. James Marsden does a creditable JFK, particularly in a scene where we see him laid out on the floor by the chronic back pain he had to endure through most of his adult life. But Liev Schreiber's LBJ, though he does have a great comic scene as he gives orders to his staff while sitting on the toilet, is badly miscast, employing arguably the worst attempt at a Texas accent ever recorded on film. John Cusack's Nixon is - one presumes - unintentionally hilarious as he slouches about with a fake nose. The film skips over Ford entirely, leading directly into Alan Rickman's Reagan, where you have to wonder "What _were_ they thinking?" as Rickman's sole attempt at conveying Reagan was having his hair slicked up. Reagan was British? Who knew?

Recommended for Forrest Whitaker's outstanding performance and for the scenes that deal with the early civil rights struggle, but otherwise should be regarded as a watchable fictionalization of an important period of history rather than the story of a real individual's life.
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on July 30, 2014
As one who lived through and participated in the Civil Rights events of the era depicted in this movie, I find the whole vehicle not just unnecessary, but also unnecessarily painful, undignified anachronistic and demeaning to those like myself who actually lived through those events.

I found nothing honest, accurate or redeeming about the juvenile morality play or the mindless and empty depiction of blacks as cardboard cutouts in this movie. The characters were syrupy one-dimensional stereotypes of Lee Daniel's original story: literally cardboard cutouts of a past era with a "pasted-on" or "painted-in" plastic and false black humanity.

As always, it shows blacks as little more than spineless troglodytes, with a "second hand, hand-me-down humanity, shuffling around the White House and around white America, mostly at night -- either humming religious hymns through fake piety, or raising hell and "cutting up?" Like the slave images only these movie makers limited imaginations can come up with, there are no normal blacks or normal black families: just dysfunctional one that adhere closely to the stereotypical American story line. God forbid that the moviemakers could one day do enough research to get the basic facts of black life correct for just once instead of leaning on old stereotypes?

However, since "Auntie Oprah" was involved, (and not a bad piece of acting on her part) how could we have expected anything more? She has made a "cottage industry" out of "milking" the last ounce of the "bent over whining, and shuffling humanity" of the "Old Black Joe" and "mammy" tropes.

Perhaps it is not altogether unfair or an exaggeration to suggest that she has gained a great deal of her enormous wealth by pandering to and trying to keep alive the Aunt Jemima-Uncle Tom caricatures of black life. It is as if she has an undying wish to bring back to life and again to the forefront of the ever racist American mind: that the "Aunt Jemima and Uncle Tom Nation" of old is still alive and well -- even when most racists whites, like blacks, are tired of it too. Her narrative inventions always come over as if the life she is depicting is already "dead" and "lifeless" because that's just what they are: dead and lifeless.

The only question I had was how such fine actors as Cuba Gooding Jr. and Forest Whitaker could lend their names to such a cinematographic farce? The only sensible answer must be that work in Hollywood for black actors (except for Morgan Freeman, Jamie Foxx and Samuel L Jackson that is) must still be so scarce that it is reserved only for drug addicts, prostitutes, slaves or Aunt Jemima's and Uncle Tom roles -- that is to say, only for roles that depict blacks as one-dimensional subhumans. One star
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on January 19, 2014
I didn't like wasting my time on this fiction. It said based on a true story yet they gave him an extra son, had his father killed,and made his wife an adulterer and an alcohlic. This good man had the right to TRUTH about his life.
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on April 26, 2014
This movie completely and fully missed the mark of my expectations for it in every way it possibly could. The entire storyline drug. The characters were not engaging or likable for the most part, and the ending just sealed the disappointment for me. I would not recommend it or ever watch it again. Time I can never get back.
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on September 27, 2014
I believe it is deceptive and destructive to take real life persons and re-write their story with things that did not happen. If the whole truth is not a good story then change the names of the characters. The movie was well-done and the characters lovable, it's just that they were telling a lie.
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on March 25, 2014
Before watching, I thought the story was mostly true. I was so moved by the main characters' resilience and fortitude based on the many, many life tragedies portrayed in the movie. When I researched I found that his childhood was fabricated as well as the son whose life was heavily portrayed. I felt duped and disappointed.
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on January 24, 2014
I love biopics when they are truly biographical, and not mostly fiction in the many ways this movie is. Numerous reviews and articles have pointed out the many inaccuracies. The real Butler was born in Virginia, not Georgia; his parents never experienced the cotton-field scene shown in the movie, his son was no activist but rather worked as an investigator for the State Department. Reagan did invite the real butler to a state dinner, but Obama did not invite him to a private meeting at the White House, and so on.

Even so, one might be able to get past the overly fictionalized story but for two problems - some profoundly bad acting and some ponderously partisan political "messaging." Where are the Kennedy and Johnson who united against Eisenhower's civil rights act (the first since Reconstruction days) and had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the civil rights era? Not here. The obvious attempt to vilify Reagan - who by all accounts treated all people the same, be they butler or statesman, and who agitated for more of a role for African-Americans in Hollywood long before it was chic - is way over the top and takes much out of context.

Forest Whitaker and Cuba Gooding, Jr. are always great and their work in this film is no exception. The rest of the cast is hideously bad and/or ill-cast (if one wants to give them the benefit of the doubt.) This movie makes it clear that Winfrey's great acting in The Color Purple was a flash in the pan.

For a much better vision of life at the White House, try "Backstairs at the White House". It was much better done, had more meat to the stories and was far better acted.
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on May 27, 2014
I am so glad a film such as this made the impact it did in today's world. We are so used to seeing the bloody debacle of slavery and the civil rights movement we sometimes forget that there was life between and after those times and it is that which we know so little of. This film gives us an opportunity to witness life as seen through the eyes of a young boy going forward into manhood and old age from a place that is still almost frozen in time. The startling truth of the residual effects of slavery comes when we realize, that in the opening scenes, we are seeing life as it was in the 1920's! This is when we see and realize that southern blacks, at the very least, were still very much their master's "slaves" and were still horribly oppressed and hard put. It is from this important vantage point do we enter the life of a young boy and follow, with him, through the ensuing years. It is this truth which sets us up for the mindset of a man that will travel through the many tumultuous years of this country as they pertained to the black man's experience in America. It is more than ironic that he became a butler in the White House under 8 distinctly different presidents during the many tumultuous years this film encompasses! The White House is used almost as a metaphor employed as a backdrop for the panoply of historical events through which his life passes and not about the White House itself! That must be understood or one will take a wrong turn and believe that something is missing! While there are a few instances of interaction with sitting Presidents the overall story is one that does not at all depend on those interactions. Not at all...this is about a man who happens to become a butler in the most revered place in the land but in reality, his life was no different than that of a well employed man working at any other job. The thing that should give one pause is that even by employment at the White House, the seat of all American hope and the perpetual guardian of our Constitution, the history of this family was no different than any other and his experiences were really not much different than any other. His wants or his needs were not met any differently than they would have been had he worked four blocks over and three to the right. His children experienced life as most other Black children did in and through their time. White America and its feelings toward the Black man are more than evident when one contrasts the differences between White staff and Black. Who was sitting in the Oval Office mattered very little and the problems are more than obvious. The story is an important one and Forrest Whittaker gives a beautifully controlled performance as the protagonist while Oprah Winfrey, as his wife, shows us the reality of the flip side of this strange little coin. The two are masterful in depicting two completely different experiences as Black people. He never forgets where and what he came from and is grateful for his situation, proud as a staff member of the White House while she sees and lives life though a parallel prism of another reality. It is a film I am glad to have experienced and I think you will be too.
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