Lee Daniels' The Butler Reviews
The butler (Lee Daniels' The Butler) is a American historical movie which was broadcasted in 2013 and produced by Lee Daniels and written by Danny Strong. This movie is based on a true-life story of Eugene Allen. The leading man is Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines.
The main character is a butler of White House whose name is Cecil Gaines.The story is not about inside of White House but the changing of the United States. The beginning of the story is Cecil's childhood. In 1926, he and his family were black peoples and slave of white farmer in Macon, the United States. His father was killed by a white man. A old woman who lives in the farm made him to be 'House Nigger.' This experience as House Nigger helped him to live later. He became an adult and left the farm. He managed to get his job and was taught how to behave in front of his customers by a man who was also black person and work with him. The man recommend to him that he should work in a Washington D.C. hotel. He met his wife Gloria there. They had two children, Louis and Charlie. One day, he was hired as a butler of White House. After then he served successive seven presidents, Eisenhower to Reagan for 34 years. He had various experiences through his job as the butler with bewildering changes in the United States. While he worked for the president, his son, Louis joined the group that fought for black discrimination. He took part in a lot of campaigns and arrested many times. Cecil against him. Charlie became army and was dead in the Vietnam War. In the Reagan administration, Cecil changed the rules of the black butler's allowance. After that, he and his wife invited to a party as a guests. He was served by his colleagues and his thought changed. He felt empty to do his job as a butler and resigned from his post. The end of the story is that he invited to White House after Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American president in the United States.
I learned and understood a lot about racism in the United States of the time from this movie. I assumed that I could be crying because the Japanese title is "Tears of The president 's Butler." It sounds like a plenty of tears, isn't it?(only me?) But I didn't cry. Of course I moved, especially the part of Cecil and his wife visits his hometown, and they make sure their love each other. As I expected this movie didn't make me bored and it was good to see such a great movie.
The movie is apparently based on true events and takes place over a span of about 80 years, seen through the eyes of Cecil Gaines (Forrest Whittaker), a black sharecropper's son from Mississippi who witnessed his father's murder at the hands of a white man and grew up seemingly with a determination to remain in the place designated for him by the social norms of the time. As an adult he found a job working as a butler in the White House where he would remain in service for 40 years, from Eisenhower all the way through the Reagan years. Meanwhile (apparently in scenes we never get to see) he meets and marries his lifelong partner Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and has two boys.
Much of Cecil's life is seen in two spaces: First is his job, which encourages him to keep his head down and his mouth shut despite the fact that over the years eight different United States Presidents constantly ask his opinion on equal rights. Second his is relationship with his eldest son Louis (Daniel Oyelowo) who refuses a subservient role and takes an active stance in Civil Rights despite the old man's objections.
The narrative of this film is frustrating. It deals with Cecil's view of history that is only seen in bits and pieces that take place in jump cuts so sudden that we lose our place in the story. We see the Little Rock lunch counter protests. We see the forced school integration. We see the Freedom Riders. We see Vietnam. We see The Kennedy Assassination. We see the march to Selma. We see the assassination of Martin Luther King. We see The Black Panthers. These events are brought up but never really dealt with in a fluid way. The movie jumps quickly from one major event in history to the next without ever giving us the feeling of the passage of time. There's no sense here of a life being lived. When the movie was over I had no idea who Cecil Gaines was other than the broad overview of his life as a tiny pebble in a history lesson that wouldn't slow down long enough for me to learn anything I didn't already know.
Plus, the major historical events are spliced in (very oddly, I might add) with his conflicts with Cecil's son, and with a bizarre and clumsily written role for Oprah Winfrey as Cecil's wife who spends a lot of screen time dealing with alcoholism and infidelity (one strange encounter suggests she's screwing the guy next door but it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie). Her character is so off balance from the rest of the story that it feels like it's in a different movie.
The goings on at the White House are brief and pointless. Cecil is in service to every U.S. President from Eisenhower to Reagan and almost every Chief Executive is played by an actor who looks like someone else: Robin Williams play Eisenhower, but looks like Truman. James Marsden plays Jack Kennedy, but looks like Bobby. Liev Schrieber plays LBJ, but looks like Joe McCarthy. John Cusack plays Nixon, but looks like Kevin Spacey. Then there's Alan Rickman whose strange performance as Ronald Reagan is mercifully brief. These actors walk into the picture for a minute or two, spout some identifier as to the current crises they're facing and then disappear from the movie.
This is a very frustrating movie. It doesn't delve into history, so much as gloss over it and clunk it up with a lot of side plots that aren't necessary. I think the screenwriter, Danny Strong, needed a better idea of what kind of story he wanted to write. This could have been a nice portrait of a butler who worked in the White House for much of the century, like an American retelling of The Remains of the Day. Or it could simply have dealt with the father/son conflict. Instead, it tries to be all things to all people. It deals safely with a chapter of American history that few disagree on, and filters it in a very unchallenging way. It pays lip service to history without dealing with the events in question. If you want to see these events, you're better off looking at a documentary like Eyes on the Prize or 4 Little Girls. As it stands Lee Daniels' The Butler plays like a history textbook with pages torn out.