Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

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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Movie Info

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
Rating:
PG-13 (for some violence and disturbing images, language, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking)
Genre:
Drama
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
 wide
On DVD:
Runtime:
Studio:

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 Alafia
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)
Lajessie Smith
as Abraham
Show More Cast

Critic Reviews for Lee Daniels' The Butler

All Critics (175) | Top Critics (47)

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

Full Review… | January 3, 2014
Grantland
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | November 11, 2013
Time Out
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | September 21, 2013
Us Weekly
Top Critic

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

September 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.

Full Review… | August 18, 2013
ReelViews
Top Critic

[A] turbulent, emotionally overpowering movie.

Full Review… | August 16, 2013
Orange County Register
Top Critic

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

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