Lee Daniel's The Butler

Image courtesy of the Weinstein Company

Image courtesy of the Weinstein Company

Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes

Rating: PG-13


Lee Daniel’s The Butler is the true story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) who rose from the most humble of beginnings to serve as a White House butler through the administrations of 6 Presidents. Cecil is born on a cotton farm and after his father is killed he is moved from the fields into the house, where he is taught to serve. As a teenager he decides to leave the farm in the hopes of finding a better life and opportunities, but it takes the kindness of a stranger to help him find a job serving at a hotel. Once there, his skill as a butler carries him to a ritzy hotel in Washington, D.C. and catches the eye of the head of household for the White House. 

While Cecil is reaching a professional high, his home life is in turmoil. His wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) is slowly becoming an alcoholic and his college student son Louis (David Oyelowo) is in constant danger because he has joined the Civil Rights movement in the South. What Cecil doesn’t know is that his kindness, professionalism and work ethic are having their own subtle effect on the most powerful men in the world. 

Scott’s Review:

I thought this movie was terrific. The cast is an amazing group of actors and actresses who manage to evoke the right emotional responses without ever feeling like they are trying to manipulate the audience. Many of the main characters are good but flawed people who struggle with their weaknesses and who don’t always know what is right in a world that is changing so radically and so quickly. For me, the best quality that Forest Whitaker embodies in Cecil is dignity. Cecil’s devotion to his work and the care with which he does each task is a noble quality that too few people today share. He never treats his duties as though they are beneath him and it is no wonder that he becomes one of the most popular members of the White House staff.  Winfrey is equally brilliant as Gloria moves from pride to worry to sorrow to joy. 

My only complaint is that because each President is played by a very notable actor but only shown so fleetingly that it feels like you are only getting a chance to watch someone famous work on an obscure impression. You get only a glimpse of who each president is as a man and with Cecil’s intimate position in their lives I feel like the film could have given us a real look at the men we have chosen to lead us. The ups and downs of Cecil’s life are remarkable and I recommend this movie highly because too many of us who didn’t live during the struggle for Civil Rights don’t understand the brutal reality of it, and we need to be reminded of what it cost those who fought that good fight. Lee Daniel’s The Butler is a touching and well-made reminder. A-    

Krista's Review: 

Lee Daniel's The Butler is a great movie. As Scott stated, the acting is stellar and I was especially impressed by Winfrey's portrayal of Gloria Gaines.  Winfrey has surprisingly few acting experiences under her belt, but is very convincing as the long-suffering wife and mother.  I also enjoyed the overall pace and depth of the movie.  Given that the movie spans events from the late 1920s until 2008, Daniels gives us enough time to really feel the societal changes in each of the pivotal moments of the last 70 years.  

The one aspect that I didn't like was the fact that very little of the movie is accurate.  The source material comes from the real-life White House butler Eugene Allen and his life doesn't much resemble the character Cecil Gaines.  As a history teacher, I think the screen writers could have told the accurate tale and still woven in the complexity of the civil rights movement, and kept the emotional connection of the film.  I understand the need for artistic license, but I do know that so few people ever check the facts of a historically based movie, believing that everything they see on screen is 100% accurate. My issue however doesn't take away from the impact and depth of the film.  The Butler is poignant, emotional and worth seeing. A-

Krista Boivie