LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER
By: John ’Doc’ Strange
Directed by: Lee Daniels
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Robin Williams
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and disturbing images, language, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking)
Selig Rating: FULL PRICE
Runtime: 132 Min.
Lee Daniels' The Butler is the story of White House butler Cecil Gaines. During his tenure, from 1957 until 1986, Cecil served seven presidents and their staffs. From a 1920’s plantation where the workers, though freed during the Civil War, are still treated as nothing more than animals smart enough to do the white man’s work. His mother raped and father murdered by the plantation owner’s son, Cecil was “moved up to the house” by the plantation owner (Vanessa Redgrave).
In the plantation house Cecil is taught not only to read and write but to serve the masters of the plantation without being intrusive. The skills of serving and anticipating the needs of others eventually take him from the plantation to a hotel in Washington, D.C.
It was from the DC hotel that Cecil made the move to the White House where Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) was in office. Over the years, through the Kennedy (James Marsden), Johnson (Liev Schreiber), Nixon (John Cusack), Ford, Carter, and finally Reagan (Alan Rickman) administrations, Cecil served with a quiet dignity, never espousing his personal political feelings or even admitting he had them.
Cecil was not just a butler; he was also a husband and father of two boys, Louis (David Oyelowo) and Charlie. He dealt with problems that plagued many men during the era. His long hours at work left Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) alone to raise the boys (and caused her to drink?). He loses his youngest son to the war in Viet Nam and his eldest son to politics. Louis went off to college but spent more time protesting for civil rights than in a classroom.
The job that Forest Whitaker does in his role as Cecil Gaines is worthy is of an academy award. Oprah does an eye opening portrayal of a hard drinking, cigarette smoking wife and mother. My favorite presidential portrayal has to have been Alan Rickman’s Reagan (with Jane Fonda as Nancy). My least favorite, John Cusack as Nixon, was still well done. Clarence Williams III, Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrence Howard, and so many others put in such strong performances that I could write two pages and not do them justice.
Seen through the eyes of a quiet man, in Lee Daniels' The Butler we see the injustice and at times inhumanity of the era. I recommend everyone to sit down and watch this film with friends. You are going to want to talk about it afterwards.
The Selig Rating Scale:
FULL PRICE – Excellent movie, well worth the price
MATINEE – Good movie
DOLLAR – OK movie
CABLE – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
FREEBIE – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.
COMMERCIAL TV – Commercials and cutting to the allotted time will not hurt this one.
FORGET IT! – Bad. If you see this one, do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself.
GET YOUR TORCHES – BAD! – Burn the script, the writer, the director and maybe even the actors!