‘The Butler’ tops the box office
Caroline Madden, ‘Doah Staff Writer
September 4, 2013
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” is based on the true story of an African-American steward who served in the White House through eight presidencies, from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. While it is based on a true story, much of it is fictionalized from the lead character’s name to his family life.
The butler himself, Cecil Gaines, grows up on a cotton plantation in the 1920s. His employer takes him in to teach him how to be a servant. He takes those lessons with him to D.C., where a job at a fancy hotel leads to his eventual position in the White House.
Forest Whitaker carries the film with his quiet yet effective performance of a man with two faces, one that he puts on for the world and one that portrays what he keeps inside. Oprah Winfrey gives a wonderful performance that makes you forget her celebrity stature. You see her completely as Cecil’s wife Gloria, who is a loving mother trying to keep her family together while dealing with her own alcoholism.
One major flaw of the film is that it goes through each of the presidents very quickly. While that makes for a quick-paced film that doesn’t lag, it does not allow you to really examine the changes that each of these presidents brought.
Many famous actors show up to portray these presidential figures, such as Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, John Cusack and Liev Schreiber. Also, Jane Fonda plays First Lady Nancy Reagan. Despite all of these famous actors, some of whom are miscast, none of the performances leave a lasting impression because they are so short.
“The Butler” ends up showing less of Cecil’s services to the presidents and more of his son’s journey during the civil rights movement. His son rides with the Freedom Riders, protests with Martin Luther King Jr. and joins the Black Panthers.
These segments are the best parts of the film. They are a haunting portrayal of the racism in our country during those times. “The Butler” is all tied together with a fantastic ending showing Cecil Gaines living to see Barack Obama elected President, and being able to meet him.
The script was uneven, it raced through time periods that were only signaled through subtle costume changes and aging makeup. It kept jumping through Cecil’s home life, his job and his son’s journey without ever settling down enough to subtly examine each story.
Despite all that, it is still an unflinching portrayal of the Civil Rights movement.