Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Starring: Forest Whitaker, David Banner, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Robin Williams, Clarence Williams III
Directed by: Lee Daniels
Run Time: 132 mins
Genre: Biography/ Drama
Opens August 16th
By Lisa Minzey of The Reel Critic.com
Hey Phoenix Film Fans! Opening this week is the latest film from Lee Daniels, "Lee Daniels' The Butler". This film has been making headlines long before its release due to the legal battle between the Weinstein Company, (the film's distributor) and Warner Bros. Daniels has assembled one of the most impressive casts in recent memory, aside from all the hype, will it be the first contender for next year's Oscars race?
Inspired by the true story of a White House butler, this story spans about 80 plus years chronicling some of the most pivotal points in the civil rights movement. As a boy, Cecil Gaines grew up on a cotton plantation in Macon, GA, where he went through much tragedy but will set him on a course that will the rest of his life. After witnessing the dead of his father and the rape of his mother, Cecil was brought in from the fields to work as the house help. Under the wing of Ms. Annabeth Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave), Cecil became one of the best butlers on the plantation. As he grew older and reached a point of maturity, Cecil realized that unless he wanted to meet the same fate as his father, he needed to get out of the South and head North where the opportunities were slightly more improved for a colored man.
By the 1940's, Cecil found himself in Washington DC working as a butler at the Hotel Excelsior, where he met his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), and built a life for her and their two sons. In 1957, he was recruited to work at the White House, starting under the Eisenhower administration. His first day, Cecil was tasked to serve President Eisenhower (Robin Williams) and ends up witnessing a discussion on the students trying to desegregate the schools. It is Cecil’s first taste of what the president goes through trying to understand what is going on in the country. Going through the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan administrations, Cecil tries to sever his country the best he can while his son is out doing the work of a foot soldier in the Civil Rights fight. Cecil and his son Louis don’t see eye to eye on Civil Rights and becomes a strain on their relationship as well as the entire family.
Lee Daniels has made a name for himself with polarizing or controversial films that leave the viewer like they have been punched in the gut (Precious, The Paperboy) but treats this film with more respect and honor than the aforementioned films. Not shying away from any of the brutal nature of the Civil Rights movement, Daniels tries to represent both sides of the movement as balanced as possible. Although Daniels tries to represent each president fairly by including nuances of each president that exemplify the humanistic quality of each leader, the film is seriously heavy and relies on deep ingrained stereotypes like meal selections, language usage and regional attitudes. One of the most poignant moments of the film is when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. explains to Louis the exemplary qualities that a butler exudes and why it is a position of honor. It is a quiet beautiful moment that I wish that would have been focused on a little longer or kept pacing throughout the film.
The cast is a stellar assembly of talent, with stand out performance from Oprah Winfrey as the philandering alcoholic wife Gloria, John Cusack as "Tricky Dick" aka President Richard Nixon and of course, Forrest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines. This is a film to keep on your radar going into award season as I can't imagine someone from this cast won't walk away with some type of award. Be sure to check out "Lee Daniels' The Butler" when it opens in theaters starting Friday August 16, 2013.