Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Movie Review: "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (2013)

Movie: "Lee Daniels' The Butler"
Director: Lee Daniels
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 12 minutes
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Inspired by a true story, "The Butler" is about a black man who spent over 30 years as a butler in the White House. The person that the "Cecil Gaines" character (Forest Whitaker) is modeled after worked through 6 different presidents, both Republican and Democrat. He also lived to see President Obama get elected. Though this movie focuses on one man and his job, it also deals mostly with the civil rights movement, fair treatment for all, the black power movement, and family. Cecil has a tumultuous relationship with his oldest son Louis (David Oyelowo), who just wants to make a difference in the world. Cecil also has a strenuous relationship with his wife Gloria (OPRAH!!!!!!), who is a drunk for much of the film. Cecil seems driven to perform his duties as a butler, while not getting involved in politics or commotion of the civil rights movement; he seems to prefer not to ruffle any feathers and keeps his head down, even when his very freedoms are challenged.

If you go into this movie knowing that most of it is untrue, you can enjoy it a lot more. For a story that is supposed to be inspired by true events, not much of this movie actually happened in real life. The Cecil character was not born on a cotton farm, didn't have two sons, one of them wasn't a Black Panther/involved in the civil rights movement/went to Vietnam, and his wife wasn't a drunk. The main points of contention in this movie revolve around the relationship between Cecil and his eldest son and all stem from these events, which turned out to be a complete fabrication added for dramatic emphasis. We have no problem with this, but why call it true events when none of it happened this way? Maybe writers thought that the life of a man who worked as a butler for the White House in and of itself wasn't particularly that interesting. As a curious moviegoer, seeing "inspired by true events" makes me want to go check out the true parts of the story. If "Pacific Rim" was inspired by true events, I'd check out when and where and how the alien invasion took place.

Another thing that bothered us: why is Cecil Gaines' 30+ year employment at the White House so important in this movie when Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, and Colman Domingo's characters were all there before him, and seemed to be there after Cecil left his position? Lenny Kravitz's character offers Cecil Gaines champagne when he and Gloria attend Reagan's state dinner, which was around the time he left/was leaving his butler job. It doesn't make sense on a continuation timeline.

The lead actors did a fine job in their roles, Forest Whitaker in particular, though the script was a bit lacking and the movie overall was a bit long. The most distracting thing about this entire film, and even made it unbelievable at times, were the portrayal of the presidents. It's easiest to talk about James Marsden, who looks like a modern day John F. Kennedy. He did a fine job, and that's about where it ends. Robin Williams played Eisenhower, Liev Schreiber played Lyndon B. Johnson, John Cusack played Richard Nixon (he sounded like Nixon while looking like Cusack with a bad fake nose), and Alan Rickman played Ronald Reagan (who looked like Reagan while sounding like Alan Rickman). All of these actors are just fine in other roles, but as these respective presidents, you wonder what the casting directors were smoking when they made these decisions. Overall, their choices took away from this movie a lot, to the point where we could tell everyone in the theater around us also found them distracting. People literally laughed John Cusack came on the screen as Richard Nixon. Poor casting for the presidents.

Knowing most of this movie involved creative license by the writers and director takes away from this movies potential. We know it is very popular and lots of people love it, so maybe we're just disgruntled, but it kind of impacted my enjoyment of the film as well as my rating. Overall, it was fine, but don't describe and orange and call it a banana.

My Rating: 5/10
BigJ's Rating: 4.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 72%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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