As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man's life, family, and American society.
An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids' point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.
In New York City's Harlem circa 1987, an overweight, abused, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.
A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.
Cecil Gaines was a sharecropper's son who grew up in the 1920s as a domestic servant for the white family who casually destroyed his. Eventually striking out on his own, Cecil becomes a hotel valet of such efficiency and discreteness in the 1950s that he becomes a butler in the White House itself. There, Cecil would serve numerous US Presidents over the decades as a passive witness of history with the American Civil Rights Movement gaining momentum even as his family has troubles of its own. As his wife, Gloria, struggles with her addictions and his defiant eldest son, Louis, strives for a just world, Cecil must decide whether he should take action in his own way. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
On Gloria's vanity mirror in the bedroom are two pictures of children. One of them is a photo of Oprah Winfrey as a child. See more »
In the long shot of the White House dated 1957, the fence along Pennsylvania Avenue has concrete barriers. These were not installed until after the Beirut bombings in 1983. In a later scene, an old film image is used and the barriers are not there. See more »
And Lee Daniels continues to be one of the worst directors working.
Now, I'm going to say two things that many critics may be afraid to say, for whatever reason: 1."Precious" was wildly overrated. 2.With "The Butler", Lee Daniels has officially become a worse director than Tyler Perry.
How is it possible to ruin a movie with an Oscar bait subject matter that should be considered the film equivalent of a layup? Ask director Lee Daniels. Originally slated to be directed by Spike Lee (or course) "The Butler" (now "Lee Daniels' The Butler") chronicles the story of Cecil Gaines (an African American) from his humble beginnings working on a plantation in the South, to his longstanding career as a butler in the White House, where he served under eight different presidents. Based on Wil Haygood's article "A Butler Well Served by This Election", Daniels has already stated that while the movie itself is set against historical events, it is a work of fiction. And though that fact doesn't have any correlation as to whether or not this is a good film, if you come out of this having a deep admiration for "Lee Daniels' The Butler" solely on the basis that you believe it to be based on a true story, then this news may allow you to see how mediocre of a film it really is. During the few times Daniels does not relegate this movie to an inappropriately campy tale of American civil rights, Forest Whitaker's performance shines through (especially nearing the third act). And the star studded cast who plays the string of presidents, such as Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as LBJ and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan (each on screen anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes throughout) are all well and good here. And though Oprah Winfrey (who plays Cecil Gaines' wife) awkwardly never seems to physically age throughout a majority of this film and for a time David Oyelowo (who plays Cecil's son) plays a teenager who looks all of 40 years old, much of that will be overlooked because of the material. I will also make mention that the aspects which worked well for me all stemmed from the script and its focus, not so much on Cecil's work at the White House, but on the conflicts he has with his son; or more so the thematic conflicts between the Black militant vs. the Black domestic, which is an extremely interesting historical battle to watch play out. In fact, that kind of African American social struggles plot line is right up my alley. So, why was I so disinterested for much of "Lee Daniels' The Butler"? For one, many of the more touching moments between father and son come off as goofy, since every time Oyelowo has a confrontation with Whitaker he is in a new costume (making more wardrobe changes than Celine Dion in concert). For example: in the 60's he is dressed as a college freedom rider (suit and tie) in the 70's he is dressed in all black, accented with a black beret, as he is now a Black Panther and in the 80's he is dressed in a Dashiki and has grown a ridiculous looking mustache, as he speaks out against apartheid and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. And since these moments are essentially the strongest written chunks of the film, the wardrobe distraction may cause audiences to shrug off said moments as being emotionally stunted. In saying that, the overall problem with "Lee Daniels' The Butler" comes down to the fact that I didn't have any emotional connections with any of the story lines or characters and thus when countless contrivances would arise, they had me rolling my eyes profusely, when I should have been touched, or angry or moved in some fashion. And the blame for this disconnect has to fall squarely on the shoulders of the visionary Lee Daniels. The script has its flaws, but it also has some quite interesting lines of dialogue and many interesting conflicts. But Daniels has transformed the material into something that was liken to a trashy, sweaty, soap opera (a la "The Paperboy") not having nearly the respect for the content as he should have. Final Thought: Yes, the archival footage (most of which concerns some of the more violent brutalities of the civil rights movement) is powerful, and Daniels' does construct one 5 minute sequence which depicts a civil rights sit-in juxtaposed with a White House dinner party, that is honestly quite well done. But for the rest of the 2 hours plus, Daniels visually suffocates this story so severely, that it becomes quite impossible to enjoy this rather intriguing and quite layered Jane Pittman-esque character.
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