Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)
Lee Daniels latest movie chronicles the 34-year-old career of Eugene Allen as a butler for the White House. The historical drama is inspired by Allen’s real life. In the film he is called Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker). Cecil served as a butler for eight presidents from 1952-1986. His wife Gloria is played by Oprah Winfrey. The couple has two children, Louis and Charlie.
Daniels is best known for directing Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. The relatively new director strives to enrich the civic history of the viewer. During Cecil’s time at the White House he works during many historical events (President Kennedy’s assassination, Nixon resignation and many more). As a child, Cecil witnessed the brutal and senseless death of his father as they worked on a cotton farm. Under the tutelage of a sympathetic woman Cecil learns to read and eventually garners the skills to become a great butler.
Cecil always maintains a sense of impartialness when it comes to politics. His impartialness is a requirement of his job; because “there are no politics at the White House.” In stark difference, his son Louis begins to become connected with various black suffrage movements. Cecil’s position as butler allows him to witness presidential discussion of national civil rights issues. Meanwhile his son Louis directly participates in many of those same struggles.
While Cecil and Louis’ paths seem more of a dichotomy they ultimately share the same goal. They both, in their own right, strive to progress the black suppression so prevalent in American history; a history that wasn’t that long ago. Many people think that after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, conditions instantaneously became equal for blacks and other minority groups. That is not the case. This movie showcases the many struggles of the black suffrage movement.
The acting was pretty good. Whitaker’s portrayal of Cecil was an astute and understated performance of a man so full of history. My overall impression of the film is one of slight disappointment. While it is a good movie, it is by no means exceptional. The film admirably details various historical events. The film doesn’t always correctly utilize its all-star cast. For example, Jane Fonda who plays Nancy Reagan only has a few lines. I don’t think the script was very balanced.
There were some scenes that weren’t necessary and only bloated the running time. The movie was a tad too long. Winfrey’s performance was admirable, but certainly not Oscar-worthy. In the genre of Civil Rights films, this movie is a good entry. However, I have seen better. There simply is this void that I trouble conveying. Sometimes you watch a movie and you just know that there is something missing. And unfortunately that is the case for this film.
As for if you should see this movie in theaters I say that depends. It depends if these types of movies are ones you like. It is definitely worth a rental at minimum. I think you shouldn’t waste more than a matinée priced ticket to watch this film. Danny Strong’s script does not warrant $10.75. But, that’s just my opinion.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 132 minutes
My Grade: B
Will you be watching?
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