As someone said to me before the screening, The Butler sounds like a parody of Oscar bait - something from Naked 33 1/3. While that is true - it does seems to exist solely for the purposes of cashing in on the success of last year's The Help - the solid performances keep its head above water.
Forest Whittaker plays Cecil Gaines, a cotton picker who moves to 1957 Washington to land a job as a waiter in a hotel. It's here that he impresses the White House staff and is duly employed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Cecil serves first Eisenhower (a quiet Robin Williams), then JFK (a slick James Marsden), LBJ (a barking Liev Shreiber), Nixon (a slimy John Cusack), and Reagan (an uptight Alan Rickman). Meanwhile, the time spent at the White House plays havoc with his marriage to Gloria (Winfrey), who seeks solace first in the drinks cabinet and then the arms of neighbour Howard (Terrence Howard).
The Butler, or Lee Daniel's The Butler (the director's name before the title is odd since Danny Strong adapted the from Will Haygood's Washington Post article), tries to do too much in encompassing thirty odd years at the White House. The story flies by far too quickly, barely touching on something before whizzing on. The structure is so episodic in nature it's easy to predict where the ads will be placed in future TV airings.
There's just too much to do in two hours. On top of the above synopsis, there is also Cecil's son Louis's (David Oyelowo) involvement in the Civil Rights movement, which rubs up his apolitical father the wrong way, but has some influence later when Cecil asks the White House that the black staff be paid the same as the white. There's also a hint that while the campaign for civil rights continues, women remain subservient to men - Howard ordering his wife to get him another beer - but this isn't given the room to be explored further. No time, see.
So thanks then to the sterling performances to keep The Butler watchable. Whittaker, as solid as ever, is matched by a wonderful Winfrey, her first role in fifteen years. Cuba Gooding Jnr is as bouncy as usual and, I'll only say this once, there isn't enough Mariah Carey in this movie. Daniels showed she could act in Precious and her two brief scenes here prove the lady can act.
A miniseries rather than a movie would have suited the material better though.
Review by Gavin Burke | 15:13 | Wednesday 13th November 2013 | Movie Review
I haven't seen this yet but if it's anything like his other films it'll be God awful. Lee Daniels is an awful hack and I still haven't forgiven Forest Whitaker for giving one of the worst performances in the history of cinema in The Crying Game. His cockney accent and over the top mannerisms make Dick Van Dyke's lovable chimney sweep Bert look like Daniel Day Lewis. Don't get me started on that film Precious, God, how crap was that ? It was like one of those childrens film foundation films the BBC used to show to ruin your Saturday mornings when you were a kid. I'd swear Mr Daniels must have voodoo dolls of several American film critics, there is no other explanation for the good reviews he gets. Actually, now that I think about it, I kind of want to see this just to see how bad it'll be.Posted 07:54 | Tue 12th Nov 2013
Just another half-baked collection of flim-flam rolled up into another piece-of-s**t film wheeled in off the hollywood production line (for our consumption) Send them suckers at hollywood a message and give this a miss.Posted 00:29 | Fri 15th Nov 2013
just about watchable , no more .Posted 22:46 | Sat 16th Nov 2013
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