Sunday, November 17, 2013

Movie Reviews: Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)

The film tells the fictionalized story of Cecil Gaines, a butler for the White House loosely inspired by the true story Eugene Allen, who served in the White House for eight presidents, from Eisenhower to Reagan.

By fictionalizing the story, Lee Daniels is able to take dramatic liberties not only for plot effect but also, ironically, to make the film more historical. Through Gaines and his family, Daniels is able to portray significant moments in American history: the Civil Rights movement, the end of segregation, the Viet Nam War, the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa, and the election of the first African American president – events that he could allow Gaines and his family to participate in directly, in a manner that perhaps Allen’s family did not.

Fictionalizing the story may have also given Daniels' some flexibility in punching up some family dynamics that may have been rather more ordinary for the real Eugene Allen. And here the film truly succeeds, carefully weaving personal stories together against the backdrop of decades of historical events.

The star cameos are occasionally distracting, but that shouldn’t detract from the stellar performances. Forest Whitaker may well win his second Best Actor Oscar and Cosmo (his first for both was for The Last King of Scotland), and Oprah Winfrey is well deserving of Supporting Actress consideration, as is David Oyelowo for Supporting Actor. It will almost certainly make my list for Best Ensemble along with a number of other categories as well.

Rating: 4 stars

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