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LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER has Oscars written all over it.. and by that I mean for production design, makeup, costume, everything that has to do with making this movie looks and feels like the eras that the lead character Cecil Gaines (Whitaker) goes through.
Whitaker himself is remarkable, sadly everybody else, or should I say every other famous faces in this movie, including Oprah Winfrey’s comeback to acting, are just along for the ride, only one or two or three of them would bear significance while the rest have little to no impact whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great true story, just knowing that there is someone who served as a butler to eight U.S. presidents, doing that same job all those years, it’s impressive, worth admiring indeed, it’s an important story, nobody doubts that, but maybe the movie would be more influential if the focus was more on the characters rather than trying too hard to re-enact certain key historical civil right movements.
Comprising this award-winning cast are: Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple), Mariah Carey (Precious), John Cusack (The Paperboy), Jane Fonda (On Golden Pond), Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Jerry Maguire), Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), Minka Kelly (The Roommate), Lenny Kravitz (Precious), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), James Marsden (X-Men), David Oyelowo (The Paperboy), Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike), Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus), Alan Rickman (the Harry Potter films), Liev Schreiber (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), and Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting).
Based on the screenplay by Danny Strong & Lee Daniels, The Butler is inspired by Wil Haygood’s Washington Post article about an African-American man who served as a butler (Whitaker) to eight Presidents in the White House for over thirty years. From this unique vantage point, The Butler traces the dramatic changes that swept American society, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man’s life and family.
There’s a bit of Forrest Gump feel to this movie, an ordinary man going through extraordinary historical moments, but they’re not quite exactly the same because Forrest Gump encounters those moments, while Cecil Gaines just happens to work at one of the most respected buildings in the world and the moments come to him, or more like his son, Louis Gaines, desperately wants to be part of those moments, desperately wants to matter.
I really enjoy the drama where the son is embarrassed about his dad working as a butler, working for white men, as something that the son sees as demeaning to his race, and the dad wants to teach his son that his job means something, not only it puts food on the table, he gets to serve people who decide the fate of this country.
Now, that aspect of this film are its strong points. This family who find themselves at a crossroad in history, that I think is the attraction of LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER, can those two individuals come to an understanding that who they are respectively or what they’ve accomplished is not only for the good of the family but also for the good of this country somehow.
I still don’t know if bombarding it with a bunch of A-listers is a good idea ’cause in this case, it might get too distracting, not to mention the idea of Jane Fonda playing Nancy Reagan is probably something that in a million years could only happen in an alternate universe. But as I said earlier, this is an important true story, Lee Daniels may not have approached it as raw and in-your-face as he did Precious, but I suppose the involvements of A-listers in this movie proves how many actually believe in Lee Daniels’ ability to bring this story to the screen.
Are we just living in this world or can even somebody as simple as a butler make a difference?
When THE HELP hit theaters, I wonder if it’s necessary to bring this issue up again in a time like this when tolerance is becoming the in thing and racism is slowly becoming a thing of the past, but events that transpired over the last year, with Zimmerman case and the others, proved that it has not yet become a thing of the past, in fact, we could use the reminder again and again.
That said, I think if you made a movie that obviously was straight up about civil rights and anti-prejudice, I don’t know how much it would draw the audience, but if you made a movie that focused on the characters in another setting but the story has civil rights and anti-prejudice themes, subtly handled, that may be a more effective strategy instead of blatantly holding the race card up high for all to see and overhyping it with famous names.
GRADE: 3 out of 5
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