Lee Daniels' The Butler
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The Butler tells the story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man’s life and family. Forest Whitaker stars as the butler with Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more. Academy Award® nominated Lee Daniels (Precious) directs and co-wrote the script with Emmy®-award winning Danny Strong (Game Change).
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Still, despite my imaginary recasting of those four incredibly small roles, the main strike against this movie is how it's put together.
If you take it as a series of individual vignettes, then they are all quite superlative. The main trouble is tunnel vision. The writers got so locked down into trying to condense a half century into two hours that none of the momentous events they touch on, get proper treatment, and they skip over events that honestly should have been highlighted such as: The Cuban Missile Crises, The Moon Landing, McCarthy trials, Watergate, and most incomprehensibly... the appointment of Justice Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court, were never even acknowledged.
I can't help but think that this story would have been better presented as a mini series with each Administration given a two hour episode.
My favorite part of the film is when Mr. Gaines in later life observes... that as a society Americans look out in judgment at the world and it's atrocities while ignoring what they have done to their own people. Such a sentiment isn't very popular, but it's truth certainly touched me. Taken as a whole, this country has a grievous list of sins that as a whole we try to sweep under the rug.
If nothing else, Mr. Gaines' life exemplifies that despite suffering injustice, tragedy, and heartache one can live a life of dignity and value with hard work and self-respect. That message, covers all the flaws of the film.
All in all, I recommend it.
While Daniels wanted to tell the story of a man who selflessly worked as a butler in the White House for thirty-four years, serving under eight U.S. Presidents from Truman to Reagan, he also wanted to tell the story of what was simultaneously going on outside of the White House...mainly the Civil Rights era. Having read the forward in the book, I now understand this and the fact that, in order to tie it all together, changes had to be made. I consequently like the movie a lot more than I once did.
Forest Whitaker was by far my favorite in the film, playing Cecil Gaines, Eugene Allen's film counterpart. He played the character with a quiet self-confidence that Allen surely possessed in life. I thought it was a bit cliché for him to have personal conversations with many of the Presidents, but Whitaker's subtle ability to draw in an audience in made it work. I admit I wasn't sure about the casting of Oprah Winfrey as Whitaker's wife, but she did well. The older of their sons, played by David Oyelowo, was a portal for his family, and the audience, to see the struggles going on throughout the nation, especially in the South, as people fought for Civil Rights. You could see the conflict between father and son...it all felt genuine and that made the ending between them all the more satisfying. The second son, played by Elijah Kelley, was there just so there could be a second son. But he served one purpose, which was to illustrate a second conflict going on at the time. I knew nothing about either of these actors before they played these boys, but I was quite impressed by both of them. Another person who really impressed me was Aml Ameen, who played Cecil Gaines at age 15. The scene of his time at the café or diner or whatever it was was perhaps my favorite in the film.
As for the other supporting characters, this film featured a cast of all-stars. I did find it weird to see Robin Williams never crack a joke anywhere in a movie he was in, but he played a fine Dwight D. Eisenhower...in fact, I didn't see Robin Williams at all...I only saw Eisenhower. Same goes for John Qusack, who disappeared into his role as Richard Nixon. James Marsden once commented on all the Oscars and nominees he played alongside, but he can stand proudly among these folks as he was a fine John F. Kennedy. In the end, everyone who played a historical figure did a great job. My favorite among this crowd would have to be Robin Williams as Eisenhower. As for the fictional supporting characters, Cuba Gooding, Jr., was my favorite, but he didn't get nearly the amount of screen time he deserved.
The story was great as well. As I've explained, I've changed my mind and really do like it as opposed to the first time I saw it in theaters. There was never a dull moment throughout and many cast members, such as Oprah Winfrey and Mariah Carey, really surprised me, doing much better than I would have guessed.
I fully recommend this film as it delivers a worthwhile plot from beginning to end...and the final line will make you laugh and just smile right afterward because both Forest Whitaker and Cecil Gaines totally deserved to say that line after everything they had been through. I suppose my final solace with this film is that Eugene Allen's family also liked it. I do wish that the great man himself could have gotten a chance to see it, but that will never be. But you should definitely see this film and you should also read The Butler: A Witness to History...everything is put into much greater prospective. Enjoy.
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Hot Toasty Rag, September 29, 2017
While Oprah Winfrey was busy touting her talents and plugging herself for an Oscar, the lead of The Butler,...Read more