Lee Daniels' The Butler
After leaving the South as a young man and finding employment at an elite hotel in Washington, D.C., Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) gets the opportunity of a lifetime when he is hired as a butler at the White House. Over the course of three decades, Cecil has a front-row seat to history and the inner workings of the Oval Office. However, his commitment to his "First Family" leads to tension at home, alienating his wife (Oprah Winfrey) and causing conflict with his anti-establishment son.
Release Date: August 16, 2013
Runtime: 2 hr 12 min
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Rated PG-13 Language|Disturbing Images|Thematic Elements|Sexual Material|Smoking|Some Violence
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Movie Review Maven grade = A
In a Nutshell: Packed full of awesome star power, The Butler is a sobering look at U.S. history and the evolution of black Civil Rights. “The Butler” begins with the quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” “Light” has long been a symbol representing knowledge, truth, and understanding.
Lee Daniel’s gripping movie begins in 1926 Macon, Georgia where slavery was outlawed, yet still practiced culturally in the south. “The only thing I ever knew was cotton” are the first words you hear from Cecil Gaines, a black man whose family worked on a plantation and destroyed by the bigoted, evil property owner. Cecil’s journey takes him to the White House to serve as a butler and experience first-hand the political changes that affected a family and a nation.
For those unfamiliar with black history in this country, this “crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice” is shown in a Forest Gump-like overview through significant milestones in Civil Rights, such as: the Executive Order in Little Rock, 1960’s Fisk University, Freedom Writers, 1965 Malcolm X speaking tour, Bloody Sunday, Vietnam, the Black Panther movement in the 1960’s, and on up through President Obama. You hear the “N” word used a lot, a word defined in the film as a “white man’s word filled with hate.”
Uplifting theme: There are many uplifting themes throughout the movie that should spark interesting conversations about equal rights at your dinner table. It was fascinating to watch father and son approach their desire for equality and respect in different ways: one with dignity and patience, the other with reckless passion. The screen shows the words “This film is dedicated to the men and women who fought for freedom in the Civil Rights movement.” Thankfully, the movie points out that the group includes both white and black patriots. It’s hard to believe that only a few decades ago, black Americans were not allowed to drink out of the same drinking fountain as Caucasians. While our society still has a long way to go in regards to racism, we have come far.
Things I liked:
• I thought the White House dinner scene was extremely powerful, combining it with scenes from the famous Woolworth restaurant scene. Many of the film’s montages were very well done.
• I love Robin Williams in everything. He plays President Eisenhower in this movie. Cecil serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler.
• I love Alan Rickman in anything. He was a delightful Reagan.
• I also adore James Marsden and thought he was perfect as John F. Kennedy. I appreciate it when actors actually try to use the correct accent when playing the role of a real person in history.
• I loved seeing real TV clips from history as the movie progressed through significant times in our country’s history.
• The beginning and end of the movie both show an old man sitting in a chair in the White House. I love it when movies take you in full circle.
Things I didn’t like:
• Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and many of the film’s actors did an excellent job, yet were left out of Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
• I thought it was actually offensive to see Jane Fonda playing Nancy Reagan. Casting her in any political role is sure to spark controversy.
• Mariah Carey wasn’t entirely believable as a wife of a black man, although she plays one in real life. Oh, snap!
• Because there was so much history to cover in a short amount of time (although the movie is 2 hours 12 minutes long), some scenes seemed a bit rushed and superficial.
• “We have no tolerance for politics here at the White House.” - Maynard at the job interview. The audience I sat in howled with laughter.
• John F. Kennedy says “I’ll be looking forward to working with you the next four years.” Jacqueline Kennedy quickly corrects “Eight years.”
• Referring to the White House, Gloria Gaines says “I don’t care what goes on in that house. I care what goes on in this house.”
• “A hero is one who fights to save the soul of our country.” - Louis
• “Americans always turn a blind eye to our won. We look out to the world and judge. We hear about the concentration camps, but these camps went on for 200 years in America.” - Cecil Gaines
Tips for parents: I thought it was interesting that the only F-bomb in the movie was spoken by the white Vice President of the United States. There is some profanity, infidelity, lots of racism, and violence. Not a movie for young children, but older teens may be introduced to some history that they never learned about in school.January 20th, 2014 · Details1 Thank ·
Must see. Powerful movie and well acted. Had me laughing out loud almost throughout the whole film, which was unexpected. You know it's a good movie when you forgot your sitting in a theatre because you're too wrapped up in what's happening on screen, job well done.1 Thank ·
Forrest does a great job, but Robin Williams as a President come on...February 28th, 2014 · Details
While the film is loosely based on real life White House Butler, Eugene Allen, it is so loose that fictional Cecil and real Eugene only share a job title and location. Due to its slower pace, this film will appeal more to adults and those who enjoy historical drama. The Butler is replete with famous actors, and it’s fun to see them cast as different presidents and first ladies. The real value of the film, however, is to remind us of the struggles for racial equality during a turbulent time of our nation... See Full ReviewJanuary 28th, 2014 · Details
I wanted to love it but just didn't. It had some very compelling moments that are definitely worthwhile but it also was laced with sexual jokes (Cuba Gooding Jr's character).
If you want a better and more powerful movie regarding civil rights, or treating people as equals, watch 42 or The Help.
Overall, it's a slow fast-paced movie. Let me explain. The story covers a lot of years very quickly but the movie is slow in regards to keeping you entertained the entire time. I thought the last few scenes sent an unclear message... It's like the film makers decided to jump directly to Obama and what a miracle it was that the USA elected a black president. I understand that it was a historical moment, but at the same time, the jump in the movie made it feel like the civil rights movement and Obama's 2008 election were only months apart. Covering decades in seconds made it seem poorly executed.
Parents should know there are several uses of racist language, mature themes of violence, rape and murder. The opening scene ins't for the faint of heart. The acting is phenomenal but this is a watch once type movie.January 23rd, 2014 · Details
This is a great movie.September 14th, 2013 · Details
The struggle for civil rights recognition among America‚Äôs minority population is one of epic and exceedingly awful proportions. Just a scant few decades ago we were demanding that African Americans drink from their own water fountains, utilize their own facilities, stay in their own specific hotels, and sit in their own sections of many business establishments. It was the very definition of segregation, something that the majority and the Establishment fought with fervent, often violent glee to protect. So any film which follows this legacy, from a character‚Äôs days as a young sharecropper to his latter year‚Äôs as valet for the most powerful men in the world, has to walk carefully. It has to meter out its melodrama in sensible, solemn sequences. Let the histrionics get out of hand and the history is doomed.
For the most part, director Lee Daniels and his interested, yet inconsistent The Butler does this. Focusing on the career of White House servant Eugene Allen (who is renamed Cecil Gaines here and is played with quiet confidence by Forest Whitaker) but fictionalizing it a bit, we get a Forrest Gump-like overview of Black America that actually has a solid real life center to its bystander-to-destiny designs. Allen actually did witness many of the major civil rights changes depicted in the film, and while his family situation was fudged a bit in order to add even more depth, said modifications do nothing to the movie. Indeed, the film‚Äôs agenda remains solid throughout. It‚Äôs the various casting decisions and creative choices that occasionally undermine it.
Gaines sees his father shot by the son of a white matriarch (Vanessa Redgrave), who then decides to reward the child by bringing him ‚Äúin the house.‚Äù Eventually, the older Gaines finds himself in DC, serving important politicians at a fancy hotel. Offered a job in the White House, his boozy wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) is proud of her man. Sadly, their son Louis (David Oyelowo) is not. He‚Äôs riding the cusp of a new activism and finds solace in social disobedience while in college. As his father serves Presidents Eisenhower (Robin Williams) and Kennedy (James Marsden), Louis joins the infamous lunch counter sit-ins, travels with the Freedom Riders, and becomes part of Martin Luther King‚Äôs (Nelsan Ellis) confidants. Ellis, who co-stars in TV‚Äôs True Blood, is on the brink of stardom‚Äîsomebody give him more to do! Change continues. Louis becomes a Black Panther. Cecil serves a crusty Johnson (Liev Schreiber) and a noxious Nixon (John Cusack) before being befriended by President Reagan (Alan Rickman) and his wife Nancy (Jane Fonda). Eventually, father and son see the value in each other‚Äôs contribution to the cause and form a mutual respect and affection for each other.
While the film tries extremely hard to inspire rather than upset, it seems like something is missing as the horror of racism is handled too gently. In contrast to a movie like Schindler‚Äôs List, the power and inspiration came because of the true, unadulterated real-life horror that was presented to the audience as it really was. The Butler still does inspire, but had the potential to amaze us had it not held back sheer fact without sugarcoating The narrative is somewhat distracting and uneven, yet it is redeemable, even forgivable, due to its bold subject alone.
The best thing it has going for it is its cast. Much talk surfaced about Oprah Winfrey‚Äôs astonishing comeback performance which is surprising considering what I witnessed. Winfrey DOES disappear in her character seamlessly, which reminds one of how good of an actress she is. She even most likely will receive an Oscar-nomination for this, but does she deserve it? It‚Äôs debatable, solely because she is given little to work with for a character that could have been much deeper. She really doesn‚Äôt even have that one ‚Äúbig scene‚Äù to pack a wallop either. Not Oprah‚Äôs fault; as I said she is great. But the screenwriter should have fleshed her character out with much more depth and detail.
It‚Äôs a dream cast really. Lee Daniels alumni Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and others are here. A long-awaited GOOD performance from Cuba Gooding Jr. is presented as well (he‚Äôs done little of substance since his Oscar-win for Jerry Maguire in 1996). With the exception of an unfortunately awkward performance from John Cusack as Nixon, everyone is up to par and beyond. But make no mistake, this is Forest Whitaker‚Äôs movie, and I dare even say the best performance of his career (even better than his Oscar-winning performance in The Last King of Scotland). It‚Äôs a genuine, well-studied, crowning performance that, all-in-all, is the true magic of the movie.
Gripping, interesting, and touching if still a bit artificial, The Butler is destined to dust up some Award Season merit come the end of the year. It may not deserve ALL of it, but its heart and its head are in the right place, and it does what it intends to by informing and entertaining at the same time. Forgiving its mistakes (so much more good than bad here), it‚Äôs one that should be seen for certain.September 3rd, 2013 · Details
I love the Lee Daniels' The Butler. This movie tells the amazing story of Cecil, but my problem with the movie is that everyone is taking about how great Oprah Winfrey is but I believe Forest Whitaker is the star of the movie. Forest proves he is a truly an amazing actor and we should see some Oscar buzz for his role. The presidents are great too. My favorite was JFK, played by James Marsden. Lee Daniels' should get some Oscar buzz too.August 26th, 2013 · Details
Vulgar language and other red-flag content would normally prevent recommendation of "Lee Daniels' The Butler" for any audience but grown-ups. But the moral significance of this uplifting journey -- undertaken within a context of implicit religious faith and strong marital commitment -- is such that at least some parents may consider it acceptable for older teens... See Full ReviewAugust 21st, 2013 · Details
I was pleasantly surprised with this movie. It was quite long, but the movie was covering a number of years that we had to understand in order to appreciate the movie and its characters. I thought that Forest Whitaker had an Oscar worthy performance. The other roles were well played also.
As a white person, I was ashamed at how the blacks were treated. Much of this was actually during my era. I was born in 1939, and graduated from High School in 1957, while much of the violence was going on. Although I as raised in Idaho.
One of the great lessons that struck home in the movie was the fact that the freedom riders were laying it all on the line. Reality was that they could get killed, or at least seriously injured doing what they were doing. They weren't trouble makers, but they were crusaders for the cause of equality. I guess that when I was growing up, that didn't really sink in. The movie is definitely worth seeing!
One of the problems, since there was so much history to explore, was that the filmmakers couldn‚Äôt spend too much time on any one event, which left some scenes rather rushed and superficial.
Yet, this is a story that deserves to be told. It‚Äôs not as memorable as ‚ÄúThe Help,‚Äù but it will go down as one of Forest Whitaker‚Äôs most appreciated cinematic efforts... See Full Review
LEE DANIELS‚Äô THE BUTLER is an elegant but fictionalized historical drama inspired by the biography of the longest-serving black butler in White House history and the changes he saw. THE BUTLER is well acted, with some Christian, moral content. However, it keeps undercutting its positive dramatic points and contains too much politically correct revisionist history and foul language... See Full Review
However considering the incredible cast, sets and editing in this movie, Lee Daniels‚Äô The Butler should elicit more emotion than it does. Cramming a miniseries worth of story into a two-hour time frame may contribute to the film‚Äôs hurried pace and superficial exploration of some of American history‚Äôs most troubled times... See Full Review
Director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong (Danny Siegel on ‚ÄúMad Men‚Äù) put the human story at the center of the tumultuous historic changes from the late 1950‚Ä≤s to the first decade of the 21st century. That gets a little didactic and clumsy. Cecil Gaines is given two sons, Louis (David Oyelowo of ‚ÄúRed Tails‚Äù) and Charlie (Elijah Kelley of ‚ÄúHairspray‚Äù), so that Louis can become involved in the Civil Rights movement, from sit-ins to freedom rides, and then the Black Panthers and anti-apartheid, while Charlie goes to fight in Vietnam. But sensitive and heartfelt performances and the ultimate recognition by the characters that despite their estrangement, the connection between Cecil and Louis is powerful and unbreakable makes their reconciliation hit home... See Full Review
The reality-based film (*** out of four; rated PG-13; opens Friday nationwide) is both deeply affecting and blatant Oscar bait. It's inspiring and filled with fine performances, but the insistently swelling musical score and melodramatic moments seem calculated and undercut a powerful story.
As a sweeping, multi-generational saga, The Butler verges on heavy-handed. But it's also poignant, powerful and worth seeing... See Full ReviewAugust 15th, 2013 · Details
The patchwork story and pacing robs ‚ÄúThe Butler‚Äù of the wit and heart that might have made it a companion piece to the far simpler and more powerful ‚ÄúThe Help.‚Äù Daniels settles for a soapy, preachy American history version of ‚ÄúDownton Abbey.‚Äù... See Full ReviewAugust 14th, 2013 · Details