REVIEW: Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)

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2013, The Weinstein Company/Windy Hill Pictures/Follow Through Productions/Salamander Pictures/Pam Williams Productions

Director:
Lee Daniels
Producers:
Pamela Das Williams
Laura Ziskin
Lee Daniels
Buddy Patrick
Cassian Elwes
Writer:
Danny Strong (screenplay)
Will Haygood (original article)
Cinematography:
Andrew Dunn
Editing:
Joe Klotz

Cast:
Forest Whitaker (Cecil Gaines)
Oprah Winfrey (Gloria Gaines)
David Oyelowo (Louis Gaines)
Jim Gleason (R.D. Warner)
Clarence Williams III (Maynard)
Terrance Howard (Howard)
Cuba Gooding Jr. (Carter Wilson)
Lenny Kravitz (James Holloway)
Mariah Carey (Hattie Pearl)
David Banner (Earl Gaines)
Alex Pettyfer (Thomas Westfall)
Vanessa Regdrave (Annabeth Westfall)
Robin Williams (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
John Cusack (Richard Nixon)
James Marsden (John Fitzgerald Kennedy)
Minka Kelly (Jackie Kennedy)
Liev Schreiber (Lyndon B. Johnson)
Alan Rickman (Ronald Reagan)
Jane Fonda (Nancy Reagan),
Nelsan Ellis (Martin Luther King Jr.)

From the director of Precious and The Paperboy comes a powerful story about a man who served at the White House as the butler throughout the course of seven U.S. Presidents as well as the struggles he faced in his personal life, notably his eldest son.

From his days as a youth, Cecil Gaines has always learned to serve people. From his beginnings as a houseboy for an elderly white woman in the 1930’s to getting a job at a hotel in the 1950’s after he is busted for trying to loot the place, Gaines is given a chance to start his life over. He is recommended by R.D. Warner to take a position as a butler in the White House. There, he would meet his most trusted friends, Carter and James.

Throughout the course of his time at the White House, Cecil learns about and witnesses many events throughout the course of United States history. Meanwhile, his eldest son Louis, goes through a series of trials and tribulations himself, first as a Freedom Rider and then as a Black Panther. While Louis helps the Civil Rights movements, Cecil still believes in the mentality of the past, even with the changing times. However, Cecil still remains faithful to his job and eventually, while it started to take a toll on his marriage, eventually makes the bond between himself and wife Gloria much stronger.

Based on the true story of Eugene Allen, a White House butler who served over 30 years, Lee Daniels directed what can be described as a very powerful film. We learn about historical events through the eyes of the titular butler, played by Forest Whitaker. However, it is more than just learning about his side of things. We learn about his struggles with his personal life, from his addict and sometimes neglected wife Gloria, played by Oprah Winfrey; and his eldest son Louis, played by David Oyelowo.

What’s interesting is that the viewer gets to see Cecil actually converse with U.S. Presidents and when asked by them his view on certain issues, he keeps to himself. Some issues he agrees with, others not so much, but he does have a job to do and sticks with it. Meanwhile, we see Louis have firsthand experience on some of the racial tensions African-Americans faced back in the day. One can only feel sympathy for them in an incident at a Tennessee diner where they are yelled at, then beaten and have things thrown at them and humiliated. However, when Louis joins the Black Panthers, it changes the tone of the film as it goes from a racial tension to a more struggle about respecting family.

The film has a series of cameos, notably those playing U.S. Presidents. While some were casted right, such as the ever great Robin Williams as Eisenhower and Alan Rickman as Reagan, some look a bit miscast such as James Marsden as Kennedy. However, it is okay to suspend the belief here as the film takes a look from the eyes of the butler.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a very powerful and very good film due to some great performances from the core cast.  This is definitely a great look at what builds up some of the most historic events in U.S. history through the eyes of one man and that man’s personal struggles both with the job and his family.

WFG RATING: A+

DVD

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