Where do I begin? The story. From what little “research” I did for this review, I found the movie is loosely based on the life of Eugene Wilson. How loosely you might ask. I don’t know. That was the end of my research. However, in the film Forrest Whitaker plays the title character, Cecil Gaines, an African-American who worked 34 years as a White House butler. The film is told by Cecil as he recounts his life while he sits waiting in a chair. His life spanned from the 1920s in Macon, Georgia up to present-day. Many people may assume just from watching the previews that this film is nothing more than a stroll down the civil rights movement memory lane, one timed conveniently with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King. These people could not be more wrong. Yes, events of the civil rights movement are always infused with the characters but how could they not be? This movie is about relationships.
Now, let me just stop here a minute to point out something. The LBTC does not normally care to watch a movie about relationships, especially love stories. Give me a good action, drama, comedy. . . I don’t care what as long as it doesn’t entail sappy, doe-eyed, who’s dating who, I’m not happy with my marriage, unrequited love, long lost love. . . .well, you get the idea. I see the movie Ghost as a waste of comedy from Whoopi Goldberg and as a chance of getting lucky. All that consoling will lead to something, right?
The Butler is a different kind of relationship / love story. It’s the story of one man’s love and respect for his wife, sons, mother and father, friends, fellow African-Americans, himself, his job, politicians, whites, community and country. Cecil is by no means a saint, he is flawed. The internal, and external, struggles he works through leads us to an understanding about his character. You may find yourself admiring the elder Cecil or at the very least, finding a soft spot in your heart for this senior citizen.
The ensemble cast: incredible. Forrest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, Terrance Howard, Vanessa Redgrave, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Robin Williams, Liev Schreiber, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda . . . and these are just the ones I can remember. In some films, the ensemble overshadows the story they tell. I’m happy to report that this does not seem to happen in this film, or at least it did not for me. Mr. Whitaker is tremendous as Cecil but then I can not recall a character portrayed by him that I do not like. From top to bottom, the entire cast seem to pay tribute to the roles they portray with no one trying too hard or forcing emotions that they do not feel within themselves.
I do have two criticisms of the film. The first one is the title, Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Before my “research” the title really irked me. Lee Daniels? Who the hell is that? Turns out, he’s the director. And why does he think that he is bigger than the film? However, I must admit I was wrong. . . I know, I know, hard to imagine. But when I’m wrong, I’m wrong and I have no problem admitting it. Apparently, there is already a movie by the name The Butler, so for legal reasons, the director’s name was added in smaller type to distinguish this film from the other.
My second issue with the movie is minor as well and one I do not relish in announcing because it involves an actor I respect. I’ll just throw it out there and what comes will come. . . Alan Rickman is all wrong as Ronald Reagan. There, I said it. Mr. Rickman does a good job of the former President’s vocal cadence but his accent is all wrong. He gave Reagan a combination British / American mid-west accent and that is just plain wrong.
Out of five stars, the LBTC gives Lee Daniels’ The Butler four stars. Quality story and quality cast with a few minor annoyances, like running a bit too long for my taste. For those of you wanting to know, I did not feel the need to look at the time once. I started to get an itch to check a watch towards the end of the film but that feeling quickly passed. Yes, the film will make you laugh and some may have a tear or two in their eye but it will also make you squirm uncomfortably in your seat a bit (or maybe that’s just my experience of being an American in a foreign country) when such blatant reminders of how cruel human beings can behave towards one another are shown through reenactment and the use of archival footage. If you are the type of person that likes to talk about social issues, or live with a therapist, this film will provide lots of fodder for discussion, not only about past atrocities but ones we currently face in our world today.
- One quiet voice can ignite a revolution; a review of Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013) (werenotsorry.wordpress.com)
- Movie Review- Lee Daniel’s The Butler (queerlandia.com)
- ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ gets a lot of Oscar buzz and controversy (Video) (examiner.com)