‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ is an inspiring historical journey told through the eyes of a servant in the White House. It is based on the life of Eugene Allen who served in the White House during eight presidents. It is also the story of a father and son who are divided by generations and the tumultuous times during their lives.
After a tragic event, Forest Whitaker (Cecil Gaines) escapes from the life of a sharecropper in the south. He enters domestic service as a butler. His ability to remain invisible while serving (as if he is not in the room) eventually gets him a job at the White House.
David Oyelowo portrays Cecil’s oldest son, Louis who struggles to find his place during these turbulent times. His transformation from a disillusioned college student to a militant member of the Black Panthers is an eye opening experience.
In contrast to Louis, Cecil’s younger son, Charlie (Elijah Kelley) chooses to fight for his country during the Vietnam War.
Yet, through it all Academy Award® winning actor Forest Whitaker provides an inspiring and brilliant portrait of a man who struggles to understand events unfolding before him. He cannot reconcile the thought that things are better now after what he endured during his lifetime. Consequently, he doesn’t understand his son’s desire to fight for civil rights. But, he ultimately finds the power within himself to face this ‘Brave New World’.
Director Lee Daniels who also directed the critically acclaimed motion picture, ‘Precious’ has assembled a spectacular cast to tell the little known story of a unknown servant in the White House. The cast includes Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Robin Williams, and Clarence Williams III. He allows us to view the lives of African Americans and their struggles to gain equality.
Academy Award® winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr., is head butler Carter Wilson. He provides hilarious blue rated one-liners filled with expletives. The light hearted comedic relief is well placed to alleviate this serious subject.
Academy Award® nominee Oprah Winfrey as Cecil’s wife Gloria is a self-loathing alcoholic housewife. She resents Cecil for the hours he spends at the White House. But in reality, it is her desire to be a part of that world. As time passes, Winfrey's portrayal of the older more mature Gloria in later years is quite moving. She embodies a woman who has survived tragedy and comes through the other side.
First-hand accounts of each president who sat in the oval office provide insight into their political views. Spanning administrations from Dwight Eisenhower (Academy Award® winning actor, Robin Williams) to Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman) we are given a bird’s eye view of their set of ideals, ideologies, and prejudices. For example, it is revealed that African American butlers were paid forty percent less than their white counterparts and never promoted until the Reagan administration.
Liev Schreiber gives a fantastic performance as LBJ. He is almost unrecognizable as the outspoken Texan who is thrown into the middle of the civil unrest taking place in the country.
‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ is a testament to the civil rights movement and surely has historical value. However, Daniels’ attempt to include every significant event doing those times becomes information overload. At some point, it is a little too overwhelming to be bombarded with event after event of civil unrest throughout the United States. Nevertheless, the dynamic performances are more than enough to keep the audience interested.
Director: Lee Daniels
Written By: Danny Strong
Running Time: 132 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13