Wednesday, August 14, 2013

REVIEW: Lee Daniels' The Butler

Lee Daniels' The Butler

Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey


August 16, 2013

Lee Daniels

The Weinstein Company

2 hours 12 minutes



Nobody was closer, yet more distant from American politics than Cecil Gaines.  Gaines, who in reality was known as Eugene Allen, served eight Presidents, from Truman to Reagan, from 1952 to 1986.  Between all of that time in The White House, times were changing for African Americans, along with the rest of America.  In "Lee Daniels' The Butler," audiences experience The White House from Cecil's perspective, and through that we get a fantastic movie.  Lee Daniels, the director of the critically lauded "Precious," gives us a story that, while sometimes a little slow, flows and is always engaging.  "The Butler" is combines the racism of "The Help" and the chronological storytelling method "Forrest Gump to make a well acted, well-written, surprisingly funny, and moving biopic that is definitely something that deserves to be seen.

Forest Whitaker gives an emotionally powerful performance as Cecil Gaines.  Throughout this film, the audience sees the terms of eight presidents from Cecil's eyes and how that affects his personal life at home.  There are plenty of scenes featuring Whitaker just giving it all he has and just further proving that he's one of the finest actors in Hollywood.  Oprah Winfrey also turns in a powerful performance as Cecil's alcoholic yet supporting wife Gloria.  Her performance isn't as superb as Whitaker, but she is very believable in the film and there are one or two scenes where it shows how talented Oprah as an actress is.  Both performances though are great and the actors shine brightly in the scenes that they share together.

Of the entire supporting cast of actors, ranging from Cuba Gooding Jr. to Robin Williams, the only one worth talking about is David Oyelowo as Cecil and Gloria's first born son Louis.  His performance in this movie is something that shows off how talented an actor can be if he's given the right director and the right script to work with.  The other films he's been in, including "Jack Reacher," didn't give him the right material to work off of, thus ruining the overall performance.  Don't get me wrong, all of the performances in the film are great, it's just that, other than the three actors I have mentioned, the supporting cast has very little screen time.  In fact, all of the presidents in the film have about 5 minutes of screen time each, giving us very little time to appreciate the performances overall.  Everyone in the film is really good, but it's only Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo who truly shine and give stellar performances.

From the trailer of this film, "Lee Daniels' The Butler" looked like nothing more than cookie-cutter "Oscar bait," meaning that everything looked hammered in and was made only to get awards.  Luckily, Lee Daniels had something else up his sleeve and made a movie that is emotional, moving, and a lot funnier than you'd expect.  Every performance is great, particularly Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo, despite most of them not lasting more than five minutes.  The direction from Lee Daniels clearly shows the eye of a true filmmaker and further proves why he was nominated for Best Director back in 2010. 

The script from Danny Strong, who wrote the Sarah Palin HBO movie "Game Change," is very sharp and has some solid jokes placed in throughout.  People may complain at how fast the film goes through the significant moments that occurred during Cecil's 32 year presence at the White House, but the thing about that is that the film was about Cecil and his family, not about everything around him.  That's why I threw out the "Forrest Gump" reference earlier: this movie focuses on one main character and the changing world around him from his perspective.  Overall, "Lee Daniels' The Butler" is a all around fantastic depiction of one man, who happened to work in The White House, and his experiences as the times were changing.  The trailers didn't even do this film proper justice.

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