No longer do movies that have important things to say have to wait until after Thanksgiving to come out. It was last year that Argo came out in the early fall and walked away with the award for Best Picture of the year. Lee Daniels may be trying to do something similar in his new movie The Butler as he certainly has something to say about race relations in modern American history. He shares the story of one man who through an interesting life position has an exclusive perspective into American politics. If it worked for Tom Hanks, there is no reason it can’t work for Oprah. While perhaps relying on too many emotional highs and lows Lee Daniel’s The Butler fills itself with fantastic actors to share a personal story about race in Modern America.
The Butler is based off a Washington Post article about Eugene Allen. But seeing as real life often tends to not be as dramatic as a story needs the producers decided to change the main character’s name to add a little more flair and the chance to mess with the audience’s heart screen including the young Cecil Gaines, as named in the movie, witnessing murder and rape as a small boy.
This facade doesn’t hurt the movie, in fact it adds a more personal touch to the nation’s history which if Forest Whitaker does his job right. will help the audience have a more emotional connection to some of the Nation’s biggest racial autocracies over the past century.
The most important addition to the movie was the addition of his socially conscious son played by David Oyelowo. It added personal and familial conflict as all his father wanted was to keep his family safe while his son dreamed of racial equality and would die to get it. One of the most powerful scenes in the movie came early on while Cecil was serving a state dinner his son Louis was part of a Tennessee sit-in of a segregated restaurant. The results are jarring.
Also jarring are some of the casting choices for the actor’s who portrayed the men they served. While Alan Rickman and James Marsden play a surprisingly spot on President Reagan and Kennedy respectively, it was surprising to see Robin Williams playing Eisenhower and John Cusack playing an older Richard Nixon.
There were many big stars playing small parts in the movie, and trying to play guess the actor was a little distracting and deterring from the story. Some of the roles were so small that if you blink you may miss them, for example I missed the appearance entirely of Mariah Carey. I could also not recognize the likes of Lenny Kravitz who has proved his acting prowess in the Hunger Games series. But men like Cuba Gooding Jr are tough to miss. My favorite casting choice may have been Jane Fonda as the First Lady Mrs. Reagan.
To no one’s surprise Forest Whitaker is amazing in the movie. While many of the actor’s have a small amount of screen time he interacts with all of them so well. He plays the part of the humble servant subtly going through a modest transformation as he ages gracefully along with the role.
I am also always a little surprised how well Oprah can act. She has only been in a handful of acting roles where she isn’t playing a version of herself. She is allowed a little more depth than her on-screen husband as she doesn’t need to be a character that is supposed to leave an empty presence in a room. Her dramatic shifts are well made and she does a fine job in the movie.
I think what I appreciated the most is that no character is without their flaws. From Oprah who develops a drinking problem to our main character who battles back and forth with his son who stands ideologically opposed to how his father lives his life. We are also able to explore the weight of the office of the Presidency as they deal with major racial issues which exploded through the course of the butler’s career.
There is no doubt that this movie will be up for some major awards come February. The Butler swayed the audience back and forth on an emotional ride with its lead character and left the audience applauding by the end. Though heavy on the melodrama at times The Butler does a fine job at reminding the country where we have come from. A-