Lee Daniels' new film The Butler tells the very touching story of a man that served as a butler to multiple presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower through Ronald Reagan. This film is very well done and touches on a number of important events that happened during the second half of the 20th century. It is beautifully directed by Lee Daniels, mostly known for his work on the film 'Precious,' which gained him an Oscar nomination for best director. Danny Strong, known primarily for his work on television shows such as 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' and 'Gilmore Girls,' wrote the script for the film. Forest Whitaker is cast in the starring role of Cecil Gaines, the humble butler who quietly served for seven different presidents during his tenure at the White House. A stellar cast of stars are chosen to play the presidents throughout the years, including Robin Williams, John Cusack, Alan Rickman and others.
The film chronicles the life of Cecil Gaines from the age of eight, while working on a cotton plantation in the south to an old man who is finally able to meet the first ever black president. It is told as a retrospective, as Cecil recalls the events of his life, while sitting in a chair at the White House as an old man. After being forced to deal with seeing his father killed as a young boy and his mother eventually going crazy after the way she is treated, Cecil makes a run for it to get away from the plantation and makes his way up north, looking for work and another place to live. He soon finds a job working as a server in a fancy restaurant and from there gets the job of his lifetime, when he is called up to serve as the butler under President Eisenhower.
Cecil quickly becomes a family man and along with his wife Gloria, played by Oprah Winfrey, wants to make a better life for his sons. He wants to make sure they "never have to see a cotton field" as he puts it and has been working for the white man for a number of years, hoping that one day things will change. Each of his sons end up quite differently as they grow up, which starts to gain some tension in the family. His older son Louis gets involved with the civil rights movement and moves down south. He is willing to do anything in order to do anything in order to help blacks get equal rights. Cecil's younger son Charlie enlists in the Vietnam War, rejecting his brother's path and wanting to fight for his country. For a long time, Cecil is ashamed of Louis for the things he is doing while participating in a number of events that he ends up getting arrested for. It takes him a long time to realize that what Louis is doing is a positive thing for their people and eventually embraces him for it. Cecil has simply been too caught up working for the white man in the White House and has come to believe what they say, and does not realize that even though he is living a better life than he would have if he stayed in the South, black people are still not equal to whites in a number of areas.
'The Butler' is a very emotional film that touches upon a number of important historical events and may be difficult to watch for those who lived through them. These are used to remind the older generation about the trials and triumphs that African Americans experienced since the Eisenhower era, and can be used to teach the younger generation who may not be aware. We all know how JFK was pushing for equal rights and in this film started to gain a bit of a personal relationship with Cecil. In 1963 when he is shot, Cecil reacts strongly, although he has developed such an intense relationship with his job that he has started to lose his connection with Gloria. She begins to resent him for his job for a while, but they remain happy together until they grow old together. This film does an excellent job of displaying the events that happened throughout the history of the United States and showing how it affects a family personally, especially Cecil. Cecil, being the main character is the most respected and known butler, but there is also an interesting dynamic that plays out with the friendship that he gains with the the other butlers. This film gives us a look at the events that happened from a whole new perspective, and introduces audiences to a man who was very important, but was obviously overlooked for a number of years.
The supporting cast of this film is incredible, and without their performances, the film would simply not be the same. His fellow butlers for many years are played by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz, with Gooding Jr. being his best friend for a long time and giving one of the best performances of his career. Oprah also gives audiences another Oscar-worthy performance, while playing his wife. Each of the actors that play the president does an excellent job as well, with too many to discuss individually. It was great to see well known actors looking and portraying such different characters than what they are normally seen as.
In what will surely be one of the best films of the year, I would highly recommend seeing this film as soon as possible and tell all your friends to do the same. The cast is stellar and could not have been put together any better, with Forest Whitaker in another role that is sure to get him nominated for best actor as well. If you are even moderately interested in U.S. history and want to see it done from a bit of a different point of view, this is definitely the film for you. It is certainly one of the best films to be released in recent years and it is one that everyone should see.