Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler Review - 3½ Stars

“Lee Daniel’s The Butler” relives the American civil rights struggle through the eyes of a White House butler.   Some compare this approach to “Forest Gump”—the kid to whom great historic moments surrounded.  But I think the approach works in this award worthy story.  Based on a “Washington Post” article about butler Eugene Allen who served eight presidents beginning with Harry Truman.  The article assessed Allen’s reaction to the election Barack Obama—the first Black President in history.  The movie tells the composite story of several butlers.  Forest Whitaker begins his journey as a field hand who witnesses his father’s murder.  He makes his way off the plantation and into hotel service.  A job in Washington, D.C. catches the eye of the White House and they offer him a job.  Whitaker marries and has children. In the film Oprah plays his wife, frustrated by her husband’s long hours, and his strained relations with his sons, especially his oldest son who chooses to join the freedom riders of the deep south.  The generation gap between father and son give “The Butler” a lot of its strength.  Our butler witnesses history in the making—Eisenhower sending troops to Little Rock, Kennedy sending the National guard to Ole Miss, Johnson signing the civil rights bill, Nixon targeting the Black Panthers.  The parade of famous historic figures played by various well known actors works fitfully.  Robin Williams drew laughs when he came on screen as President Eisenhower.  Sometimes the filmmakers show history in shorthand—LBJ holds a conference while sitting on the toilet.  Those choices break the mood that mostly stays with “The Butler”.   Most of the time “The Butler”  captures the big picture of the sweeping changes of the past two generations.  “The Butler” arrives at the same time of year as “The Help.”  As with that movie, I believe “The Butler” will contend for major awards this year.  Does it deliver what it promises?  Sweeping history seen through one man’s eyes.  Is it entertaining?  Often fascinating.  Is it worth the price of admission?  Most certainly.