With Lee Daniels, Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, Yaya DaCosta, Nelsan Ellis, Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Gooding Jr., and a slew of other names which often bring quite a bit of confidence into a production, it was hard to avoid seeing this film. But, with Hollywood seemingly in love with using the more sensitive subjects of African-American life more than giving such actors the chance to transcend into the type of roles Will Smith and White actors play, the movie does at time feel like same ole, same ole, with new faces and old stories. But, despite the reasons there are to criticize the making of the film, it doesn’t take away from the message or performances.
In the film, Forest Whitaker plays the lead, Cecil, and brings a sort of grounding to the film as madness happens all around him. His wife Gloria (played by Oprah Winfrey) is a woman who often feels neglected which leads her to troubling habits; he has two sons, one of which becomes a participant in the civil rights movement as the other becomes a participant in the Vietnam war; and all the while he is faced with the idea that his job is to be a house boy, for a lack of the prohibited term, standing by as he listens and watches men make decisions which affect the quality of his and his family’s life and well-being.
Now, from the little research I’ve done, the film is based on a news article and from there it inspired a story which spans from the early 1900s (around 1920 is when the movie starts) when we see Cecil as a child, to his later years in which we see him as a man who surely saw change in America. Throughout the film, we see his handling of the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of a worried parent, a man who works for the presidents who have the power to change things, all the while not seemingly understanding, fully, how oppressed and violated his life really is. Not to say Cecil is for the status quo, but being a man who grew up working as a field cropper and learning the ways of a butler, to be ghostly has always been his job, and to step out of the shadows seems to be what frightens the man more than anything. But, with a militant son in Louis (played by David Oyelowo) and images and stories like the case of Emmett Till floating in and out of his life like the ghost of bad memories, eventually the butler becomes more than an idle presence with a few pleasant words and eventually he becomes active in the fight for equality and progress.
With this movie, I must say that it has a nearly perfect cast. Each talent is well represented no matter how big or small their role is, and it doesn’t feel like anyone is holding the burden of carrying the movie. But, even with such a great cast, some naturally stand out. Whitaker in particular easily captures you, for the sweetness of Cecil makes it so he easily becomes a lovable figure who you find yourself emotionally connected to almost to the point of seeming like an old neighbor or family member. For instance, during the last half-hour or so, a lot goes on in Cecil’s life and for at least 15 minutes of those final scenes, I was bawling like someone just whipped me. On top of that, the movie reminds you of the talent Oprah has for acting, and the abilities Mariah Carey can have when she has good direction.
But, an issue I saw in this film mostly came from how everything is spread out. With Cecil’s life being in the midst of politics starting with the Eisenhower administration and heading into the Reagan years, a lot of things are glossed over in such a way which makes you sometimes wish the movie focused a bit more on maybe one or two presidential terms than spread itself across so many. Also, while watching this movie, you do feel reminded that other topics of the Civil Rights movement which get glossed over in the film like Emmett Till, the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), and the Black Panthers, will probably never reach the type of exposure The Butler is getting, and it forces you to realize that a movie dealing with Black issues may almost always have the African-American lead play a subservient role featuring glazed over issues which never get the type of justice PBS or the History Channel gives such topics.
Overall: Go see it, but no rush
For me, being a fan of those involved is really what pushed me to see this. Outside of that, seeing another film where the performances are excellent but you are asked to subjugate yourself to the oppression of African-Americans throughout history, just makes you wish predominately black casts like this could come together in tales which don’t involve racism, slavery and all those other subjects which are uncomfortable. It makes you wish the films we see Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio and others in had all these talents in them and though they may acknowledge their race, it isn’t essentially what defines their characters. Still, the only critiques a person could have for this films are personal ones, like I had, for overall the production was top grade. I can’t say to immediately see it because it is slightly draining to see and even with great performances, if you aren’t interested in the subject matter, actors or story going in, I doubt the film will convince you to become a fan and feel otherwise.