Monday, August 19, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler Review

Originally titled "The Butler," a legal dispute over the last couple months made it so the makers of this movie had to add in the director to the title, and thus you see that the official title is "Lee Daniels' The Butler." But please don't expect me to type that every time. I'm just going to refer to it as "The Butler." As the summer is ending and the box office starts to slow down, award season is about to begin. The Butler gives that season an early kick-off before it gets into full swing in the next few months. Historical dramas are usually good Oscar bait and although the mixed reviews for this will hold it back a little in terms of awards, I still thought it was an excellent movie.

Perhaps The Butler is closer to historical fiction, but it's still a great look at the civil rights movement. The movie is about a butler named Cecil Gaines who serves as a butler in the White House for eight different presidents spanning from the 1950's to the 1980's. Now this movie is based on a true story, but the real butler's name is Eugene Allen, so that's why I am going to play it safe and say that certain elements may be a bit fictionalized because I really don't know how accurate to this family's story it is.

That aside, the Civil Rights movement was a tough part of history and it's hard to portray that whole period in one movie, but I'd say The Butler does a pretty good job and tells the story from an interesting angle. While Cecil is working in the White House, his son Louis graduates High School and moves down south, becoming fully involved in the Civil Rights movement and the movie gets quite intense as we move forward through the 60's, touching on various aspects like the restaurant sit-ins, the freedom riders, the KKK, the martyrdom of Martin Luther King Jr., and the black panthers. Cecil and his wife Gloria become really nervous as all they are seeing is that their son is constantly putting his life on the line and getting thrown in jail multiple times and as concerned parents this really upsets them. On top of this, their other son Charlie decides to go fight for his country in Vietnam and through all this you really feel for all the people that had to go stuff like this. Love or hate Barak Obama, but the fact we now have a black president means that we as a country have come a long way and there are a lot of people we should be considering heroes from the 60's that got us to the point where we are now.

The cast in this movie is rather incredible as their are tons of supporting actors and actresses that are huge name actors. Robin Williams plays President Eisenhower. James Marsden is President Kennedy. Liev Schreiber plays President Johnson. John Cusack plays President Nixon. Alan Rickman plays President Reagan. Also scattered throughout the movie is Mariah Carey, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Terrance Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, and Jane Fonda amongst others. However, despite all those big names, their are four stars in this movie that really make it work and those are the four people playing the Gaines family. Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines. I always liked Whitaker and he does possibly his best role yet in playing Cecil Gaines. Playing his wife Gloria is the beloved Oprah Winfrey. Yes she started her career as an actress in The Color Purple before gaining huge popularity with her show and now this is her first role back as an actress in quite some time and by golly that lady is talented. She can definitely still act. Now I know it's still way too early to make Oscar predictions and in what is looking like a crowded market this year it will be tough to get nominations, but I think Forest Whitaker and Oprah definitely deserve nominations for this. Also, I do have to mention the two sons played by the lesser known actors in David Oyelowo and Elijah Kelley. While Whitaker and Oprah did an excellent job, without their roles as the two sons, specifically Oyelowo as the son Louis, this movie would not have worked as both of them did great.

In conclusion, if you like historical dramas like Lincoln, Amazing Grace, The King's Speech, and Luther, I would definitely recommend that you give this movie a shot. It may not be the best one ever made and may not get a ton of respect from the Oscars, but it does a great job at doing what it was made to do and that would be to give us as the audience a greater appreciation for the people that were involved in the civil rights movement. It's beautiful and inspiring. Definitely worth your money. I give Lee Daniels' The Butler a 9 out of 10.

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