Director: Lee Daniels
Writer: Danny Strong
Based on: Wil Haygood’s article
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Nelsan Ellis
Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) grew up on a cotton farm where he officially wasn’t a slave anymore but he practically was. When he was old enough, he left there and after a period of hardship was lucky enough to find employment. Bit by bit he works his way up to becoming a butler and finally gets recruited into the White House. But racism is still a major issue.
The Butler has a great cast and the time passes rather quickly when you watch it, but it’s a manipulative film (which I was prepared for and which isn’t generally bad) that is so sweet that it leaves you in desperate need of insulin to manage it. And that was just too much.
If you look at the history The Butler presents, there’s only one conclusion you can draw: race politics used to be really awful and it was a hard struggle that was fought in many ways, but now that Obama is president, it is all over. I wouldn’t have expected that a film by Daniels who cast such a critical eye on the current state of things in Precious, but that’s what we got.
That was also a huge part of my desperate need for insulin after seeing this film. Seriously, a happy end is nice and the movie certainly delivers on that, and they do manage to put you through all the emotions in the world in a short span of time, but with that ending they really overdid it. It probably should carry a warning label for diabetics.
As I said, the cast is great, every single one of them. But I particularly enjoyed David Oylowo (and honestly, I’d rather have seen the film about Louis Gaines, but that’s just me) and of course the various presidential cameos. But I don’t want to take anything away from Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey – they were both fantastic. I also really enjoyed the dynamic between Cecil, Carter (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and James (Lenny Kravitz) and their respective performances.
But in the end the movie can’t hold it together. If they had acknowledged for a second that the USA is far from postracial. If they had held on to a bit more realism instead of playing the emotional fiddle and using the soundtrack (very effectively) to make you sigh along with their sweetness. If they had wanted all those Oscars a little less, it probably would have been a really good film. As is it makes me understand why people hate Forrest Gump.
Summarizing: falls on the wrong side of Oscar baiting.