Movie Review: Lee Daniels' The Butler [2013]

It's a good thing they changed name to Lee Daniels The Butler otherwise I'd confuse it with a short movie of the same name.

Academy Award nominee director of Precious, Lee Daniels takes us back to mid 19th century in the darkest part of American history - the time when racial discrimination was a rule and not an exception, when colored people were denied everything citizens have a right to. This was a war and those people were just living in it.

Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) was a young black boy, working on a farm when he witnessed the owner murdering his father for stepping in to protect his wife. This is when he decided to be "invisible" to white people - it was far more safe. Grown up as a servant, he moves for better life, doing his best to become a better butler and one day, he gets a call from White House and he's hired as The Butler - probably the most influential one in history. Cecil has served to 7 US presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan and influenced many of their decisions regarding civil rights movements.
"You hear nothing, you see nothing, you only serve"
Cecil had two sons, eldest Louis is a civil right activist fighting (literally) for his and friends rights. For this reason he's been imprisoned, beaten and attacked multiple times. Father and son practically were standing on opposite sides of politics, but served the same aim - equality. They both succeed, but it had its own price.

Movie mostly focuses on White House, Gaines's interaction with politics, civil rights movements and problems inside Gaines's family and these all spins around biggest growing power of colored people. It chronologically gives pretty impressive history lesson with lots of emotions showing pain, despair, injustice,  death and hatred.

Despite suggesting quite original and impressive approach to tell the story, I did not enjoy the movie as much as the trailer itself. I felt that it lacked emotional depth, regardless how grave the story is. I expected so much more, like crying in tears, giving me heart attacks or just making some emotional connection with characters. Movie does not expose characters in full, it seems they don't change and you see only surface, they stay the same for years, decades and this becomes very predictable.

The best part of The Butler (I'll keep calling it) is cast with some really huge names, but Oprah Winfrey (playing Cecil's wife - Gloria) is definitely the best having biggest change to make it at Oscars. I doubt it's an outstandingly good performance, but few emotional scenes, housewife status, alcoholic woman who almost cheats her husband can bring her nomination. But I am not sure about the win, is she that good? (You decide).

Forest is also amazing -  a quiet, unemotional performance, playing a real person about real events - it seems to be lock. Personally, I don't think he should be in top five, especially when Lead Actor race is such harsh. Even Leonardo DiCaprio can replace him :) And this is mostly because he does not do anything exception during whole two hours.
But still it has one of the best casts this year, namely: Vanessa RedgraveTerrence HowardCuba Gooding Jr.Robin WilliamsJohn CusackJames MarsdenJane FondaAlan RickmanMariah Carey and Alex Pettyfer. Each of them is delivering really impressive performances and watching so many stars just make you feel great.

As for directing, I am sorry Lee but no, not this year. He has not done much for getting this nod. The same applies to writing and best picture, yes! best picture. I don't think The Butler is going to be in the list. Why?! because, it is not that impressive, we already have a front-runner movie telling better story of slavery and it released early for Oscars season. If academy had best ensemble nomination, I'd count it in, but not sure about best picture. (But Academy members love history movies, so we'll never know)

However, it is still a good movie to watch, I'd totally recommend it.

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  1. I haven't seen it yet, but I'll probably see it soon. Oprah will probably get nominated because of her celebrity status, but I doubt she really deserves it.

  2. She's not really that good to be shoo-in in nominee list and since your reasoning is correct, she'll be in :)