Lee Daniels' The Butler

2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)

TOMATOMETER

Critic Consensus: Gut-wrenching and emotionally affecting, Lee Daniels' The Butler overcomes an uneven narrative thanks to strong performances from an all-star cast.

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LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER tells the story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man's life and family. Forest Whitaker stars as the butler with Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more. Academy Award (R) nominated Lee Daniels (PRECIOUS) directs and co-wrote the script with Emmy (R)-award winning Danny Strong (GAME CHANGE). (c) Weinstein

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Cast

Forest Whitaker
as Cecil Gaines
Oprah Winfrey
as Gloria Gaines
John Cusack
as Richard Nixon
Cuba Gooding Jr.
as Carter Wilson
Alan Rickman
as Ronald Reagan
Jane Fonda
as Nancy Reagan
James Marsden
as John F. Kennedy
Minka Kelly
as Jacqueline Kennedy
David Oyelowo
as Louis Gaines
Alex Pettyfer
as Thomas Westfall
Robin Williams
as Dwight D. Eisenhower
Alex Manette
as H.R. Haldeman
Mariah Carey
as Hattie Pearl
Lenny Kravitz
as James Holloway
Liev Schreiber
as Lyndon B. Johnson
Yaya DaCosta
as Carol Hammie
Colman Domingo
as Freddie Fallows
Nelsan Ellis
as Martin Luther King, Jr.
Elijah Kelley
as Charlie Gaines
Jesse Williams
as Rev. James Lawson
David Banner
as Earl Gaines
Michael Rainey Jr.
as Cecil Gaines
Vanessa Redgrave
as Annabeth Westfall
Aml Ameen
as Young Cecil Gaines (15)
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Critic Reviews for Lee Daniels' The Butler

All Critics (187) | Top Critics (47)

It's not an interpretation of actual history as much as it is a reduced revision of movie history.

Jan 3, 2014 | Full Review…

The Butler proves a decent, significant, but slightly stodgy affair. Its dignified restraint stifles its anger.

Nov 12, 2013 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

Amusing stunt casting aside, it's riveting to observe how civil rights evolved from inside the Oval Office

Sep 22, 2013 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

A high-minded, didactic, but irresistible entertainment ...

Sep 2, 2013
New Yorker
Top Critic

Forest Whitaker imbues his part with immense dignity and the old-age makeup is effective showcasing Cecil during his later years.

Aug 18, 2013 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

[A] turbulent, emotionally overpowering movie.

Aug 16, 2013 | Rating: B | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Lee Daniels' The Butler

½

A somewhat moving film done with grace and dignity, but lacking the emotional heft to be profound. Although Whitaker and Winfrey deliver, the performances of the rest of the A-List ensemble cast is hit-or-miss. Entertaining but unnervingly episodic.

Christian C
Christian C

Super Reviewer

½

This film tries to accomplish several tasks without doing so, and doesn't quite meet expectations at every turn. The premise follows butler Cecil Gaines (Whitaker) as he works for many generations of presidents; through their tenures at the White House. Throw in celebrity cameo depictions of presidents (Robin Williams, James Marsden, Liev Shreiber) and some feel-good humor and it's obvious Oscar bait. In actuality the film centers on Cecil and his family, and their fight for civil rights while being surrounded by the nation's turmoil. It tries to be explicit with language and violence, but it's meant to be more subdued. It never quite seems realistic or historically accurate, because it tries to fit into historical events that mattered. His children fall into every historical event or movement dealing with civil rights. One son knows and marches with Martin Luther King Jr. then becomes a Black Panther. Another goes to Vietnam. Meanwhile Cecil influences policy with every president he meets. Sadly, this is supposed to be based on a true story, but liberties were gratuitously taken: the name of the butler is changed, his influence is exaggerated, and the stories about his sons are completely fabricated. Every performance seems strained, especially Oprah's and Whitaker's, and it shows with every passing moment. In the end Ronald Reagan is shown as the hero, and it slows until it's a painful crawl. It's too long, too pretentious, and just too problematic for its own good.

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

I'm really glad I saw this movie if just for the fact that I am ignorant of the Civil Rights movement and what it meant to real live people and in fact, I think that's when this movie came alive: when the Freedom Riders and the Black Panthers took the stage. That these kids might be at odds with their conservative-let's-not-rock-the-boat parents was a revelation. Weird casting choice for presidents (John Cusack as Nixon? Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower?) managed to nonetheless work. I didn't remember that Reagan was such a butt-head about race. Forest Whitaker, the Big O, are great.

Bathsheba Monk
Bathsheba Monk

Super Reviewer

It's a heartwarming and important story to tell, but the gross historical inaccuracies and liberal brow-beating kept me from enjoying it. The cast is superb for the most part, but the casting left me shaking my head at times. If Lee Daniels wanted to make a "rise from discrimination to the pinnacle of power" story, then more power to him, but the liberties he takes along the way are inflammatory sensationalism and sometimes downright dishonest character assassination. I am referring specifically to the mischaracterization of Ronald Reagan. Reagan biographer Paul Kengor interviewed many White House staff, cooks, housekeepers, doctors, and Secret Service over the years, and reported "they are universal in their love of Ronald Reagan." Also, Kengor adds that Reagan's opposition to change in South Africa only concerned that it not become a USSR- satellite communist state. My summation of the casting is mixed as well. Forest Whitaker is outstanding as always. He and Oprah Winfrey carry the film; their powerful understated performances, I think, successfully portray the struggles and perseverance the real people must have demonstrated. I also note Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Oyelowo, and Vanessa Redgrave as delivering superb performances. However, the casting of John Cusack as President Nixon and Jane Fonda, most egregiously as Nancy Reagan, can only be described as a sick inside joke. This must be the producers'' idea of retaliation against anything Republican. Overall, as I've said, it's a story that deserves to be told, but this particular production is melodramatic overkill. It's contrived for dramatic effect. Instead I recommend "The Help," "The Color Purple," and especially "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman." Presented as the story of the struggles of one black family dealing with changing attitudes through a time of difficult transition in American history, The Butler is exceptional and noteworthy.

Clintus Maximus
Clintus Maximus

Super Reviewer

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