Movie Review: The Butler (2013)

Posted: August 9, 2014 in Drama
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the butler

Cecil Gaines (Michael Rainey Jr. Amil Ameen, Forrest Whitaker) grows up as a sharecropper on a cotton farm in Georgia.  His father is shot, and his mother Hattie (Mariah Carey) is raped by Thomas Westfall , (Alex Pettyfer) the son of the owner.  Cecil is taken in by the family matriarch Annabeth (Vanessa Redgrave) and made a house servant. At 15, Cecil is hungry and breaks into a hotel for a piece of cake, and a kindly waiter named Maynard (Clarence Williams III) takes him under his wing and teaches Cecil how to be a waiter and bartender.  Maynard gets a call from the White House and instead of taking the job, he recommends Cecil.

Cecil begins his White House career in 1957, in the Eisenhower Administration.  Eisenhower (Robin Williams) is concerned about the civil rights storm brewing as a result of Brown V. Board of Education.  John F. Kennedy (James Marsden)  beats Ike’s VP, Richard Nixon (John Cusack) in 1960.  Kennedy doesn’t really do much on civil rights, and is shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963, Cecil is taken aback by JFK’s assassination.  LBJ ( Liev Schriber) passes the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  Richard Nixon vows to bring down the Black Panthers before Watergate takes him down.  Cecil serves Ford, Carter, and Reagan before resigning in 1987.

Cecil’s home life does not go nearly as smoothly as his work. His wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) has an affair with her neighbor named Howard (Terrance Howard) and develops a drinking problem.  His son Louis David Oyelowo) leaves the house to join the lunch counter protests and the Freedom Rides in the South.  Louis even joins the Black Panthers before getting disenchanted with the organization.  Do Cecil and Louis ever reconcile?

Guess what?  I Googled Cecil Gaines for a little background and Cecil’s real name is Eugene Allen, and he started in the White House in 1952, not 1957.  If the writers can’t get basic facts about this man’s life right why even bother to say, based on a true story?  The history is sloppy, the most affecting scene is the lunch counter scene, but that is undercut by the Freedom Riders scene which begins by showing a white guy flirting with a black girl.  The Freedom Rides were NOT…I repeat NOT a booty call.  The Black Panthers scene is undercut by the impression that Louis joins the Panthers, and the Civil Rights movement to impress a girl.  How shallow can the writers be?  The presidents are portrayed basically as well-meaning dolts.  LBJ arguably did more to try to lift people out of poverty than anyone.  What is the movie version of LBJ?  LBJ sitting on the toilet, sounding constipated. Nixon is portrayed as someone who wants to empower black businesses, Watergate is never mentioned.  Reagan is portrayed as a president who gives his own money to anyone who asks. Iran Contra?  Hello?  Do not get your history from the movies, especially not this movie.  I can only imagine what liberties these writers took with Mr. Allen’s life, if they’re not using his real name, chances are, many liberties.

This movie aspired to be Forrest Gump, with Whitaker in the happy simpleton Gump role and his son in the sophisticated worldly Jenny role.  Gump was a movie with a simple worldview, and it wasn’t such a great movie, but Hanks and Robin Wright and the rest of the cast made it better than its material, sadly the actors in The Butler do not rise to the occasion.  Who cast the presidents?  Robin Williams as Ike?  John Cusack as Nixon?  Was there drinking going on during the casting of this film?  Those selections make a mockery of history.

The acting is abysmal.  It should be much better with such a stellar cast.  Forrest Whitaker, with his lackadaisical delivery and Elmer Fudd voice, put me to sleep.  He was so good in The Last King of Scotland, as Idi Amin, what’s happened to him since?  Oprah Winfrey was Oprah Winfrey playing a character, I never forgot that she was Oprah, good actors can disappear in their roles, Oprah did not.  Terrence Howard is a good actor, he was mesmerizing in Hustle and Flow, he is reduced to Oprah’s lecherous next door neighbor.

The movie was long, 2 hours and fifteen minutes and the pacing was torturous, Lee Daniels just quit directing and producing altogether, you should have quit after the horrendous Paperboy movie.  What a stinking heap of compost that was.

So please, don’t waste your time and money on this movie. Buy Eyes on the Prize the 1987 book by Juan Williams if you really want to know about the Civil Rights movement.

The Butler:  Serves no purpose.


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