A beautiful display of this country's history, Lee Daniels' The Butler showcases the darker side of the civil rights movement contained within a simple story about a father and his son. Spanning over 80 years, this film puts us front and center during many of the biggest moments in civil rights history and gives us a chance to see what life was like during this grueling time in our country.
Cecil Gaines grew up on a cotton farm until a tragic incident changed him forever. Serving others became his life, from a plantation family, to a hotel, to ultimately becoming the greatest butler the White House has ever seen. As a butler for five different presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan), Cecil witnessed first hand the evolution of civil rights in this country. His son, Louis, took a more hands-on approach, from riding the freedom bus, participating in sit-ins, joining the Black Panthers, and even participating in the Free South Africa movement.
Based on the true-life story of Eugene Allen, Lee Daniels takes us on a journey through one of the most historic times in our nation. Written by Danny Strong, best known for his role as Jonathon Levinson on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this film has the political flair that he has begun to be known for, writing the screenplays for both 2008's Recount, about the 2000 presidential election and the recounts that followed, and 2012's Game Change about John McCain's presidential run and ultimate defeat.
Playing the role of Cecil Gaines is Academy Award-winning actor, Forest Whitaker. Starring in such films as The Last King of Scotland, Phone Booth, Platoon, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Whitaker has proven to be a top A-list actor in Hollywood, and this role is no different. He brings a depth of subtlety to this character which truly allows the audience to connect with him. His eldest son, Louis, is portrayed by David Oyelowo. This is their second film together, the first being The Last King of Scotland. Oyelowo has starred in several recent films, including Jack Reacher, Lincoln, Red Tails and The Help. He is definitely working his way up the ladder and at this rate will be a household name in no time.
The cast for this film was immense. It included names such as Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, Cuba Gooding Jr., John Cusack, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber and even Alan Rickman. Seeing all of these great actors in the same film was fantastic and most of them played their roles beautifully (I was especially surprised with Marsden's portrayal of JFK), however, most of them had only a few minutes of actual screen time, leaving me somewhat wanting. This caused a slight disconnect for me from the story. The parts of his life that were being shown passed by so quickly that it was somewhat difficult to immerse myself in that world. Simply put, it felt like there was too much possible story for one movie, so things where left out or cut back.
I'm not normally one for these types of movies, but I have to say, I really enjoyed the story that was put forth. It opened my eyes to certain events in our history and really made me feel for the main characters. If you're into history or are just looking to watch something that makes you think, then this is the movie for you.
Josh's Rating: 7/10