Lee Daniels and Danny Strong gift audiences a comprehensive history lesson, a portrait of the United States and its march from the 1950’s to the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Forest Whitaker, is magnificently remarkable as “Cecil Gaines” (the butler); a man who served, toiled in the hallowed, confined halls of the most renown home in the universe: the White House. Based on Eugene Allen’s tenure as a butler, obsequiously dedicated to eight presidents; he is a metaphor for the black man, striving to succeed in a white world; sacrificing his individuality, desperately longing for approbation while remaining invisible, locked, accepting, in expected servitude.
The film gallops the gamut of emotional button pushing: civil rights, Vietnam, Martin Luther King Jr.; birth of “The Black Panthers”; doomed Kennedy administration; Nixon’s plummet from grace. A plethora of actors have mini-vignettes, striving for accuracy “The Butler” imbues each president with flawed dignity; John Cusack as Richard Nixon, hammers the defective, isolated, amoral man.
Oprah Winfrey soars as Cecil’s wife, “Gloria”; she keeps “The Butler” grounded in substantive reality; boozy, iconoclastic, aweless when it comes to her husband’s profession; only the quantity of Jackie Kennedy’s shoes piques her curiosity.
Cecil’s son “Louis” ( gutsy, courageous performance by David Oyelowo) represents the unshackled future, fighting against the codes, defining his father’s existence; perpetually incarcerated, daring to dismantle archaic, racial dictates. The film is interspersed with actual footage of our bleakest, blighted years.
“The Butler” is manipulative, overly ambitious in its message, flimsy caricatures; nonetheless, kidnaps an audience willing to surrender to a tale worth telling. Gratuitous cheers and spontaneous tears, overwhelmingly greeted the conclusion.
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!