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Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013) Reviewed By Jay

United States, 25 July 2013

 

Jay´s Review

The full name is "Lee Daniels' The Butler" but that is only because of a legal dispute over the title. Director Daniels ("Precious") has once again evoked powerful performances from the entire cast, some of whom have worked with him before.

Inspired by an article written by Wil Haygood about a real White House butler named Eugene Allen, this film creates a gentleman who, over three decades in the White House, serves as a butler to eight presidents. This encompasses a turbulent period in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement, but Danny Strong's Forrest Gumpish screenplay made me feel a bit manipulated as we went to Selma, Birmingham, Oakland, etc., etc., where we witnessed hide-your-eyes events that triggered (but ultimately advanced) the movement.

We see:

  • * Forest Whitaker ("The Last Stand") is mesmerizing as Cecil Gaines who first becomes a butler for Dwight D. Eisenhower and continues his service into the Reagan Administration. Whitaker ages convincingly and is in top form for this year's Oscars.
  • * Oprah Winfrey ("Ocean's Thirteen") is his wife Gloria, who seems to be in chronic rivalry with her husband's prestigious job.
  • * David Oyelowo ("Jack Reacher") is their son Louis, who becomes increasingly radical, much to his parents' dismay.
  • * Lenny Kravitz ("Precious") is one of five other White House butlers who provide social commentary and humor.
  • * Liev Schreiber ("Defiance") steals the presidential show as Lyndon B. Johnson because LBJ's profane bombast is so theatrical.
  • * Mariah Carey ("Precious") is our hero's mother, raped, abused and ultimately mad.
  • * Alan Rickman ("Galaxy Quest" ...smile...) is Ronald Reagan, the fellow who listened to our hero and finally raised the salaries of the black staff to match those of the whites. Ronald and Nancy invite our hero and his wife to be guests at a White House dinner.

There are far, far too many other fine actors to name, space doesn't permit me to identify all the players in this 132 minute outing. Be prepared to laugh at the generation gap as Gaines and his wife encounter changing attitudes, clothes and politics through their son. "Black Power? What does that mean?" and "Shaneequa? What kind of a name is that?"

This is rated PG-13, so expect horrifying examples of racism, but no sweaty bodies, very little gunfire, and no blowie uppie stuff, but the "N" word is used repeatedly and the police dogs are scary. When I watch this again on DVD, I will relish the closed captions, although most of the audience clearly did NOT need them.

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