Film Review: Lee Daniel's The Butler

Lee Daniel's The Butler (2013)
starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, James Marsden
Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, David Oyelowo,
Jane Fonda, Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Liev Schreiber, Minka Kelly,
Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, and Alex Pettyfer

Watch the trailer for Lee Daniel's The Butler

(source: TheWeinsteinCompany)
Lee Daniel's The Butler Synopsis
Inspired by the real-life account of Eugene Allen, the film stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, an African-American who eyewitnesses notable events of the 20th century during his 34-year tenure serving as a White House butler.
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.
Forest Whitaker stars as the butler with Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more. Academy Award® nominated Lee Daniels ("Precious") directs the script from Emmy®-award winning writer Danny Strong ("Game Change").


Just saw Lee Daniel's The Butler with my Mom earlier last week (Monday). We thought this movie was great. We loved and enjoyed watching it. The super large ensemble cast of this film was interesting and quite impressive. Kudos to Lee Daniels for assembling them for this film (which I heard most of them were unpaid to star in this film). I thought he did a great job getting all these interesting mix of actors (I thought I'd never see appear in the same film) to star and be a part of this historical and inspired by or based on a true story film. The story's screenplay was written very well with a wonderful cast, and great acting by everyone from the main cast to supporting and cameo appearances by some famous actors. Forest Whitaker was superb in the title role as Cecil Gaines (Eugene Allen was the real person's name, actually). He was really great in portraying the protagonist character, the butler (Allen, the real butler was said to be a humble man) and captured that humility believably on-screen. Also, it was interesting to see (albeit this was probably fictionalized for dramatic effect) Whitaker's Cecil Gaines in this film was a man who was grappling with current issues and the generational gap between him and his older son. Oprah Winfrey was very good and funny as Gloria (wife of Cecil Gaines). She had some of the most memorable and witty one-liners in this film. One of my favorite lines from Gloria: “Everything you are, everything you have, is because of that butler.” Oprah's character in this film required her to exhibit or rather express various emotions and nuances. She did so (for the most part) and did a great job. David Oyelowo as Louis and Elijah Kelly as Charlie, sons of Cecil & Gloria Gaines were both great in their parts. I thought David's Louis had an interesting character arc going in this film from a teen rebel, to adult radical, to middle aged politician. He did a great job playing that character. Also, the actors (Robin Williams, James Marsden, Liev Shreiber, John Cusack, and Alan Rickman) who all played the Presidents were all good, though in smaller parts. Even Mariah Carey (as Hattie Pearl) with a couple dialogue-free scenes was great. [Spoiler] I didn't expect to see her in such a brief part, let alone a non-speaking one. Still, she did a great job on her minor, cameo part. Her character, interestingly, was related to the main character of this film, as she played Cecil's mother, who was raped! That incident (and also losing her husband at the same time) resulted her to become mute. [End of Spoiler] It made me sad seeing her character struggled and in pain. I know her part was very brief...probably about 2 minutes or so. If you were not paying attention or had gone to the restroom at that time her couple scenes was showing, you'd missed her, lol. Wished there was more of Mariah's character, like a revisit or a follow up to what happened to her character...as it looks like she was forgotten after her son left and he never mentioned her again. It was interesting how she portrayed the butler's mother, but she was not on it much, even at the beginning of his childhood nor was she even present/mentioned in his later life (you'd think he would because she was, after all, his mother...but nope, he didn't...perhaps, the mother's part in this movie was fictionalized?!? since there were no real info. about the real Eugene Allen's parents back in his childhood let alone his mother) in his adulthood. I kept wondering what happened to his mother as he got older. Was she still mute and alive? Did she live a long life or not? Did he even visit and kept in touch with her after he left and got married and had kids? So many questions...left unanswered. Oh, well...there was at least an old family picture of young Cecil and his parents (that included his mother) that his older son Louis was looking through at their family album towards the ending scene. I thought that was, at least a nice, little continuity. Lenny Kravitz and Cuba Gooding, Jr who both portrayed the other White House butlers were both good in their small, but memorable scenes, as well as the rest of the cast.

Here's a rundown of...

THE (LARGE) ENSEMBLE CAST (and their characters)

FOREST WHITAKER --- CECIL GAINES
OPRAH WINFREY --- GLORIA GAINES
MARIAH CAREY --- HATTIE PEARL
JOHN CUSACK --- RICHARD NIXON
JANE FONDA --- NANCY REAGAN
CUBA GOODING, JR. --- CARTER WILSON
TERRENCE HOWARD --- HOWARD
LENNY KRAVITZ --- JAMES HOLLOWAY
JAMES MARSDEN --- JOHN F. KENNEDY
DAVID OYELOWO --- LOUIS GAINES
ALEX PETTYFER --- THOMAS WESTFALL
VANESSA REDGRAVE --- ANNABETH WESTFALL
ALAN RICKMAN --- RONALD REAGAN
LIEV SCHREIBER --- LYNDON B. JOHNSON
ROBIN WILLIAMS --- DWIGHT EISENHOWER
YAYA ALAFIA --- CAROL HAMMIE
DAVID BANNER ---- EARL GAINES
AML AMEEN --- YOUNG CECIL GAINES
COLMAN DOMINGO --- FREDDIE FALLOW
NELSAN ELLIS --- MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
NEALLA GORDON --- SENATOR NANCY KASSEBAUM
ELIJAH KELLEY --- CHARLIE GAINES
MINKA KELLY --- JACKIE KENNEDY
MO MCRAE --- ELDRIDGE HUGGINS
PERNELL WALKER --- LORRAINE
JESSE WILLIAMS --- REV. JAMES LAWSON
CLARENCE WILLIAMS III --- MAYNARD

Though, I've come to find out (after my google search for this film as I write this review) much of Lee Daniel's The Butler was fictionalized. In reality, the real-life White House butler's real name was Eugene Allen (and not the fictional Cecil Gaines). His wife, Helene (not Gloria) did not have a problem with alcohol nor did she have an affair. The biggest liberty taken, however, was giving Cecil two sons (Louis and Charlie) in the film. There was only one child, Charles. Charles did serve in Vietnam, but he is still alive. He even attended one of the screening for this movie. Louis, the older son in The Butler and a Freedom Rider and early member of the Black Panther Party, was the lens in which much of the film's depiction of the civil rights movement was seen...and was invented for this film (perhaps for dramatic effect).

Here's a link to an interesting article about the true story of The Butler (Eugene Allen) via Time...
The True Story of The Butler
Fact vs. Fiction in Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Overall, I thought Lee Daniel's The Butler was a really great, moving, inspiring, and emotional film. Lots of great performances from both main and supporting cast. We laughed and cried and enjoyed watching it. This movie is definitely up there with other recent films I've loved and enjoyed watching such as: The Help, Lee Daniels' other film: PRECIOUS: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire (which Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz, also both appeared in small, but memorable parts), The Secret Life of Bees, and Freedom Writers. As aforementioned, while much of this film was probably fictionalized, this was still a very good film that was inspired by the real-life story of the real Eugene Allen. I definitely recommend you see this movie, if you haven't already. Go see it! It's a must-see!

My Lee Daniel's The Butler film rating: (9.5/10; A

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