Lee Daniels' The Butler: An interesting historical perspective of U.S. civil rights

Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comAugust 16, 2013 

Film Review The Butler

This film image released by The Weinstein Company shows Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, left, and Cuba Gooding Jr. as Carter Wilson in a scene from "Lee Daniels' The Butler." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Anne Marie Fox)

ANNE MARIE FOX — AP

The main character of Lee Daniels' The Butler is Cecil Gaines. He's based on the true story of Eugene Allen who served eight U.S. presidents in the White House from 1952-86.

Forest Whitaker stars. Oprah Winfrey does his wife Gloria, and David Oyelowo plays their activist son Louis. The film's center is the long fight through the 1950s and '60s for the civil rights of people of color. Father and son clash over how to approach civil rights. Cecil is a noninvolved pacifist who escaped the oppression of the deep South as a youth and succeeded in the caucasian world by not having opinions. Louis spends years in the South with Martin Luther King Jr. and others marching, protesting and being jailed to advance the cause.

The acting is incredible. Whitaker is perfectly cast, Winfrey proves her Oscar nomination for The Color Purple is no fluke and Oyelowo is an exceptional young actor. Daniels' casting of the eight presidents is inspired. Robin Williams is Dwight Eisenhauer, James Marsden nails John F. Kennedy's vocal delivery and looks, Liev Schreiber's Lyndon Johnson is a hoot and Alan Rickman looks and sounds almost exactly like Ronald Reagan. Jane Fonda plays Nancy Reagan.

They're all brilliant.

From an historical point of view, The Butler is fascinating. Younger people seeing this will get a perspective they have not seen before. For those who lived through the movement and participated, it is a reminder of how far we have come. On the surface, this is great stuff. Dig deeper, and it's heavy-handed and manipulative.

The reason is a no-brainer? Lee Daniels' The Butler is deliberately and meticulously designed to grab Oscar and Golden Globe and other nominations for acting, writing and directing. The focus on the history of this nation's civil rights movement with just a dash of anti-Vietnam War rhetoric are subjects award nominators can't resist.

This critic can. I will highly recommend The Butler, but resist the almost cliche script and the film's predictability.

Director: Lee Daniels

Stars: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Terrance Howard, Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda

Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars

Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence, language. It is playing at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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