Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler - Movie Review

Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, James Marsden, Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, John Cusack, Liev Schreiber, Lenny Kravitz, Vanessa Redgrave, Clarence Williams III, Alex Pettyfer, Elijah Kelley, Minka Kelly, David Banner and Mariah Carey.
Directed by Lee Daniels.


An impressive all-star cast gathers for this Forrest Gump journey through the civil rights movement.  It's inspired by a true story but they change so much of it, it might as well not be.

Forest Whitaker is great as Cecil Gaines, a humble man who becomes a butler in the White House during the Eisenhower administration and works there through the Reagan years. We see the changes in the country through his eyes, but also through the eyes of his older son Louis (David Oyelowo), a civil rights activist who happens to be there for pretty much every milestone event.  He's there for the lunch-counter protests where they're assaulted by patrons, for the bombing of the freedom bus, best friends with Martin Luther King, the rise of the Black Panther party. I'm surprised he didn't happen to be on the very bus where Rosa Parks refused to move.

A parade of stars wander through to play the presidents.  Robin Williams is gone before you have time to think if he's convincing as Ike or not.  James Marsden is all boyish sincerity as JFK.  Liev Schreiber's pretty funny as LBJ.  John Cusack is John Cusack as Nixon.  Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda got the mannerisms right as Ronald and Nancy Reagan, but the way the movie craps all over Ronald yanked me out of the movie.

Then I remember the movie was written by Danny Strong, an actor who's quickly made a name for himself demonizing Republicans with his scripts for HBO's Recount, about the Bush-Gore 2000 election told through Gore-colored glasses, and HBO's Game Change, where he cut out all the parts of the book on Hillary, Obama, John Edwards, so he could just focus on Manchurian candidate Sarah Palin, who was about 1/5 of the book.

The movie's over two hours and it's overstuffed with melodramatic coincidences, subplots that meander, and it culminates with angelic voices swelling at the election of Obama.  It's also always watchable.  Not only is Whitaker mesmerizing as Gaines, but Winfrey, Oyelowo, Gooding and Howard all give stand-out performances too.

No comments: