The full title of this movie, for legal reasons, is Lee Daniels’ The Butler, but eh, technicalities.
This film is supposed to be a biographical film of Eugene Allen, a butler who served in The White House for 34 years until he retired in 1984.
I’d say your best possible experience with this movie would be treating it like your average fictional film, set through a back drop of history, almost like Forrest Gump.
I hope you came here to see pictures of butlers.
Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) came from very humble beginnings in the 1920s. He was living with his family on a cotton plantation in horrible conditions. After his father gets shot and his mother goes a bit insane, he is trained to work in the house, to serve and to serve properly. Eventually he leaves the plantation, gets a job at a hotel, gets discovered, and finds himself as a butler at The White House.
Yeah, butlering at The White House is probably the sweetest gig out there. Unless you mess up, you have job security for 30-40 years.
While at The White House, Cecil finds himself interacting with decades of presidents. He is there for Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams, his second time as President), John F. Kennedy (James Marsden) and his wife Jacqueline (Minka Kelly), Lyndon B. Johnson (Liev Schreiber), Richard Nixon (John Cusack), and Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman) with his wife Nancy (Jane Fonda). For you patriots out there, yes, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter just get kind of skipped.
During these years, Cecil also has to deal with his family life. His wife (Oprah Winfrey) has bouts of alcoholism, and depression due to her husbands long hours at work. Their youngest child, Charles (Elijah Kelley) eventually decides to join the army for the Vietnam War. Their other son, Louis (David Oyelowo) is able to graduate high school and go down to college in Tennessee. There, he meets other “radicals” who want equal rights. He begins to participate in sit ins, protests, becomes a Freedom Rider, a marcher on Washington DC, and a follower of Martin Luther King Jr. (Nelsan Ellis). Basically, he is there for all of the major civil rights events. Well, the ones that don’t involve sitting in the back of the bus.
Most of the movie involves splicing the civil rights movements through the eyes of the son, with the servitude of Cecil at the White House during these nation changing events.
In case you wanted more star power, fellow butlers are played by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz, while Terrence Howard plays his wise crackin’, woman lovin’ neighbor.
I tried to find a picture of each actor as a president. This will do.
Like everything in Hollywood, most of the movie is fictionalized away from the source. Like, Louis, the civil rights activist. He never existed. They only had one son, Charles (who actually did go to the Vietnam War!). So, half the movie right away is fictional. Sure, the events all happened, just the make believe son wasn’t a part of them.
While the butler in question did exist, he also probably didn’t have the small conversations about civil rights with the various Presidents, but they make the film a lot more interesting.
Despite it’s inaccuracies, The Butler is incredible. Over two hours long, it spanned decades of American history and put it in such a powerful context, that it is hard to not feel emotional over it.
All of it is very dramatic and very sad at times, but as you learn by the end of the film, the journey is totally worth it.
The acting is phenomenal on all parts. I am willing to bet Whitaker gets nominated for Best Actor in this film, and Oprah potentially Best Supporting Actress. The line up of presidents was hilarious in its own right. All of these big name actors getting to play a US president, but only for a small part in a movie. Heck, they had a British actor playing Reagan, even better!
I think The Butler is going to be one of the few stand out movies of the year when it comes for Best Picture consideration. Its treatment of racism in the United States is spot on and informative. I am most excited for Forest Whitaker though, who has been in some less than great roles recently. Hopefully this gets him back on the right path again, like when he did The Last King Of Scotland.
4 out of 4.