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- The Butler (2013) reviewed by Lauren Mendoza
Sunday, November 3, 2013
The Butler (2013)
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Elijah Kelley, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz,
Director: Lee Daniels
Synopsis: Cecil Gaines is born a slave in the 1920’s. First, he is a slave out in the cotton field, but after a tragic event the woman of the house decides to allow Cecil to become a house slave. It is in the slave house that Cecil learns how to serve and this catapults him to live a courageous and unbelievable life. After leaving the house he grew up in he becomes a server in a high-end hotel and eventually is called by the White House to become a butler. The film follows Cecil’s time in the White House as he serves Presidents Eisenhower to Reagan and it also follows the tumultuous events of the Civil Rights Movement during these years.
Reviewer’s Rating: 5/5 reels
The Butler begins with a heavy, dark, and tragic scene and then subtly moves to a more comfortable and enjoyable film to watch. The opening scene shows a young slave boy Cecil Gaines watching his father get killed after standing up for his wife, who has just been raped. The movie then follows Cecil as opportunity after opportunity comes to him to be a house slave, then a valet, then a server at a high-end hotel, and eventually a butler in the White House. During this period of Cecil’s life, Lee focuses on showing the instructions that more experienced African Americans give to Cecil while training him for each specific job. The words, “it should feel as though you are not in the room” are repeated by each of Cecil’s bosses and this repetition reminds viewers the worth (or lack of worth) that was instilled into the lives of slaves and African Americans. This is dramatically shown as nearly every president is seen and heard talking about African Americans or the Civil Rights Movement as Cecil serves as though “he is not even in the room.”
Lee Daniels brings an important part of American history to the big screen and does so in a charming, funny, serious, and meaningful way. He does a spectacular job of expressing the tension that was experienced by different generations during the Civil Rights Movement. The film not only follows Cecil’s professional career, it also follows Cecil’s immediate family. Cecil has two sons and his eldest son is passionate about being part of Martin Luther King’s movement and throughout the film gets thrown in jail time and time again. The eldest son’s embarrassment of his dad’s career and obedience to the “white man” is shown in the way the son leaves for college, in the comments his friends make to him, and the way he withdraws from his family. This tension that Daniels brings to light is important and one of the ways he makes the family and the movie seem realistic.
The movie runs at 132 minutes and at times feels long. Not a very exciting or action packed movie and because it runs through nearly every president since Eisenhower, it feels orderly and predictable at times. It does, however, do a great job of highlighting main events throughout American history. The costumes and set was not overly spectacular but was appropriate to the movie.
The cast shines, especially Forrest Whittaker, Oprah Winfrey, and their two sons in the movie, Elijah Kelly and David Oyelowo. These four actors shine and surprisingly, their fame does not take away from the characters they play. The presidents and first ladies played by famous people such as Robin Williams, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, and Minka Kelly prove to be somewhat distracting but make the film interesting as it provides a chance to see the creativity of make-up and wardrobe as they transform some of America’s most famous celebrities. Overall, the movie was entertaining, influential, and took the viewer on a ride of emotions.
Reviewed By: Lauren Mendoza