Release date: August 16, 2013 Director: Lee Daniels
Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a fine film, one that deserves to be seen. Like most of Daniels’ previous films, it portrays the raw truth of the world around us in a way that is unpolished and incredibly disturbing, pulling us out of our bubble of complacency and forcing us to look evil in the face. It is also a story of hope and of grace that will resonate with anyone who will open their hearts to it.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler tells the amazing true story of Cecil Gaines, who was born and raised on a plantation in Macon, Ga. As he grows up, he witnesses many of the horrors of slavery. After his mother loses her sanity and his father is shot in cold blood by the plantation owner, Cecil is taken in by the caretaker of the estate and becomes a butler. When he finally ventures off on his own, he becomes the butler of a high end pastry shop. On his bosses recommendation, he is offered a job to work as a butler at the White House in Washington, DC.
Soon, he marries a woman named Gloria and has two sons, Louis and Charlie. As Cecil’s job is incredibly demanding, he spends most of his time at the White House, while his lonely wife turns to alcohol and a short-lived affair to cope with her husband’s absence. Meanwhile, Cecil’s oldest son turns to politics and the fight for equal rights, much to his father’s disapproval.
Throughout the years, Cecil sees many presidents come in and out of the White House, including John F. Kennedy who has a significant impact on him. Each president finds a kindred spirit in Cecil Gaines, as he develops unique friendships with them. He watches and listens as their decisions as the leaders of the country impact his future for better or for worse.
The realities of racial segregation, hatred, and bigotry are shown in graphic detail, allowing an unfiltered dramatization of Cecil’s world. These scenes are balanced with moments of beauty and redemption that ultimately make this film a must see for serious film buffs. There are many instances in the film where Cecil is told by his superiors, “When you enter the room, it should feel empty.” As time progresses and attitudes change, Cecil learns to open up, to let his true self shine through the mask that he has been taught to wear for the majority of his life. He also learns to fight for his rights as an individual, as well as the rights of others who are oppressed.
There are many impressive cameos throughout the film, featuring such actors as Robin Williams, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Mariah Carey, James Marsden, and Vanessa Redgrave. Both Cuba Gooding, Jr and Terrence Howard are memorable in supporting roles. However, it is Forest Whitaker who disappears into the role of Cecil Gaines. This is by far the best performance of his career. By the end of the film, you forget that you are watching an act. Every nuance and gesture is perfect. The man deserves an Oscar for his work here. Oprah Winfrey is superb as Gloria, Cecil’s headstrong wife. Much like her work in The Color Purple and the underrated Beloved, Oprah proves that she is an actress to be reckoned with. This is yet another award-worthy performance.
Over the past few years, Lee Daniels has proven that he is one of the best film directors of his time. With such titles like Precious and The Paperboy under his belt, he has also produced two excellent and controversial films, Monsters Ball and The Woodsman. The Butler proves that he has evolved in his craft.
On a side note, much fuss has been made over the fact that Jane Fonda appears in the film as Nancy Reagan. Several groups have decided to boycott the film as a result. The film has also been labeled as “liberal propaganda” by close-minded conservative groups. Whatever your political affiliation, I would encourage you to see the film and draw your own conclusions. I personally cannot see how a film which promotes love and equality can be a bad thing. If that makes the film a piece of liberal propaganda, then so be it. It is better to have a challenging piece of liberal filmmaking that supports progressive attitudes than anything that the religious right can dish out, in my opinion.
This is a film that you need to see. The controversy will only manage to sell tickets. This generation embraces equality and progress. Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a film for times such as these. Do not miss it.
Adam is a hardcore film fanatic. Some would call him a film snob. They’re probably right. He's been writing film reviews for as long as he can remember, and it is truly one of his passions. Aside from writing film reviews, he is also a screenwriter. He's written two shorts in the last year, one of which he plans to shoot in the spring of 2013. His favorite filmmakers are Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, Ingmar Bergman, Michael Haneke, and David Lynch – simply too many to list here.