UK Release Date: 15th November 2013
Runtime: 132 minutes
Director: Lee Daniels
Writer: Danny Strong
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, Robin Williams, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden
Synopsis: The American civil rights movement is shown through the prism of a long-serving White House butler.
When The Butler, or Lee Daniels’ The Butler, was released in America over the summer, it did very well with both audiences and critics. If there’s one thing the Americans love, it’s a slightly dour, rather boring history lesson about themselves, with a lot of the rough edges taken off.
Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) escapes a plantation in his teens and, after a variety of service jobs, finds himself employed at the White House by Dwight D Eisenhower (Robin Williams). Whilst his son is at the forefront of the civil rights movement and his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) disintegrates at home, Cecil serves under a variety of American leaders, including JFK (James Marsden), Nixon (John Cusack) and Reagan (Alan Rickman).
The Butler is a decent enough film – more Downton Abbey than The West Wing, managing to turn the genuinely brutal moments of the civil rights movement into footnotes in a fluffy American History lesson populated entirely by boring nonentities of characters.
Forest Whitaker is decent in the central role, but is often relegated to looking on disapprovingly whilst events happen around him. More interesting, and surrounded by 2014 Oscars buzz, is Oprah Winfrey as his neglected, conflicted wife stuck between the straight-laced Cecil and his political firebrand of a son.
Unfortunately, Winfrey’s impressive performance is also shackled by a script that spends too much time on being a whistle stop tour of America’s past and too little time on developing believable characters.
Titanic events in history are completely skimmed over by The Butler as it flies through the years of Cecil Gaines’ employment. In its hurry to introduce its “who’s who” of famous actors playing presidents, it fails to actually make any sort of point about anything.
The Butler is a big wet fish of a movie that is both desperate to depict something difficult and terrified of offending anyone. Lee Daniels’ direction is inert, the script is piss-weak and a roster of incredible acting talent is completely wasted.
Pop or Poop?
I’m not entirely sure what The Butler was trying to achieve. Like its central character, the film puts itself just behind its action, looking on powerless in a way that renders it empty as a piece of work.
The acting performances are solid, but the majority of them are swept by at such a breakneck speed that it’s impossible to take them in.
It’s a film that takes a broad canvas, speeds through it remarkably fast… and still manages to feel too long.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.