This film does well in juxtaposing the broader U.S. history along with the civil rights struggles and the difficult family life of the main character. This is the film's greatest strength especially when the stories intersect and relate to each other. This time period was volatile and still fascinating. There is also an intriguing conflict between two family members who each handle their oppression differently: one continues to use survival skills even if the main problem still exists; the other is willing to fully lose security in the fight for justice.
Director Lee Daniels did a superb job with "Precious" released a few years before this film. His best work in "The Butler" shows in the scenes of racial discrimination and violence during the 1960s which are shocking and dramatic. His skills are rather weaker in some pivotal scenes near the end where a few events that could have had more impact seemed predictable. Also, as there is such a super A-list of stars who all perform quite well, there isn't really any scene where any of the performers shows greater depth as, say, Mo'Nique did in her final scene in "Precious". It is also unfortunate that the events of the 1970s were skipped over quickly.
Despite these criticisms, this is still a film that is entertaining while reminding the viewers of some of the most difficult times in modern history.