Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Terrance Howard, John Cusack, James Marsden
Lee Daniels’ tale of Cecil Gaines, a top form butler serving in the white house through five different presidencies, and his balancing of family and subservience during the civil rights movement.
If nothing else, I respect Lee Daniels’ ambition. The tale of a black child, who is born into slavery and scarred by witnessing the violation of his mother and the murder of his father by a slave master, and his experiences serving for white Americans and remaining docile throughout the entire civil rights movement while dealing with a bitter family would’ve been an interesting enough story. But instead the film aims to be more expansive by chronicling the entire civil rights in two hours through montages of inspiration-speak and quick flash-in-the-pan “hey, remember this” moments.
The film is well-acted for the most part and its biggest triumphs comes when it tackles the spectrum of blackness in a harsh world and a family being driven apart by one man’s job of servitude, a son’s need to combat what the country is doing to people who look like him and a wife’s depression as both men slip from her grasp.
It’s when the film tries to be a high school history class that it falls short. Not to say that the history isn’t important to remind people of; it’s just that there is a more comprehensive and coherent way to do it in a movie without turning it into “Forrest Gump.”
The Butler opens today in theaters everywhere.