The Butler Serves a Moving Slice of Dramatic History
- Friday, August 16, 2013
Release Date: August 16, 2013
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and disturbing images, language, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking)
Genre: Biography/Historical Drama
Run Time: 132 min.
Director: Lee Daniels
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, Mariah Carey, Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, David Oyelowo, Isaac White, Alex Pettyfer, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, Liev Schreiber, David Banner
"I find people and what motivates them fascinating. With everything that separates us, we are all the children of God. It may seem strange but not only do I pray for family, friends and complete strangers, but I also pray for the fictional characters in my films. They become real to me. Prayer is free and freeing, a powerful, awesome gift to give. With Lee Daniels’ The Butler, I pray that the audience will receive my messages of hope, healing, guidance, forgiveness, peace and the ultimate, love.” —Lee Daniels on the making of The Butler.
Like he did with last year's little-seen The Paperboy and so memorably with Precious three years before, celebrated director Lee Daniels isn't afraid to punch the viewer right in the gut with Lee Daniels' The Butler.
Inspired by the true story of Eugene Allen, a White House butler who served every U.S. President from 1952-1986, Daniels, along with screenwriter Danny Strong, uses Allen's smaller story as a springboard for an even larger narrative that attempts to recount the long, harrowing struggle for civil rights in America.
It's an exceedingly ambitious history lesson for a movie that clocks in at just over two hours. Despite a few unnecessary plot elements and moments that feel inevitably rushed, The Butler is still a story worth hearing. In what's easily his best performance since winning an Academy Award for The Last King of Scotland in 2006, Forest Whitaker is wonderfully nuanced (not always easy in a Daniels production since subtlety isn't his strong suit) as the titular character, here renamed Cecil Gaines.
After seeing his father (David Banner) killed by the same man who raped his mother (Mariah Carey), it's not surprising that young Cecil wants a career that doesn't involve working in a Georgia cotton field. Perhaps feeling a little convicted about what Cecil has gone through because of her unbelievably cruel hired hand, the plantation's wealthy matriarch Annabeth Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave, Letters to Juliet) crassly suggests an alternative I won’t repeat here. Basically it involves becoming the perfect servant.
As it turns out, Cecil's knack for remaining invisible while serving dinner and drinks to the upwardly mobile ends up serving him well professionally. After paying his dues at hotels, Cecil is eventually sought out by the White House for a position as a butler, an opportunity of a lifetime as long as he keeps his thoughts on politics to himself.
Considering how much of a promotion the new gig is, Cecil's wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey, keeping most of her Oprah-ness under wraps in a decidedly de-glammed role) is enormously proud. However, the couple's oldest son, Louis (an excellent David Oyelowo, Jack Reacher) is less than impressed. Instead of focusing on his studies at a Nashville university, Louis has turned his attention to becoming a burgeoning young activist. Persecuted beyond belief during freedom rides and even seemingly routine activities, Louis, who has already served jail time, strongly believes his father has sold out for not speaking up.
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