Based on a true story, Forest Whitaker stars in director Lee Daniels’ new film ‘The Butler’ that looks at the civil rights movement in this country, over several decades.
Cecil, Whitaker’s character, was raised on a cotton plantation, where his mother was raped and his father was murdered. But starting in the late 1950's, and through eight presidential administrations, Cecil was a servant in The White House and consequently became a witness to history.
Married to Gloria, played by Oprah Winfrey, they have two boys. But their older son, Lewis, is rebellious and sees his father's passivity and docile profession as a negative.
Lewis goes off to join the Freedom Riders and eventually becomes a member of the Black Panther party.
Lewis' way of dealing with America's racism runs completely countercurrent to Cecil's philosophy, and these two are constantly clashing with each other.
As Cecil, Forest Whitaker is truly phenomenal. Aging over 50 years throughout the course of the film, he gives a finely nuanced, dignified, emotionally layered performance. As Lewis, David Oyelowo is also amazing.
Writer Danny Strong and Daniels have made a sweeping epic that's ambitious in its scope as it marches through decades of history. It's a searing and effective look at race relations in this country told from both inside the White House and out in the trenches.
There are many important stories to tell and Daniels' and Strong seems to want to tell them all. But even at nearly two and a half hours, something has to get shortchanged along the way. Perhaps it would have been more comprehensive and better served as a mini series.
The stunt casting of Robin Williams as Eisenhower and John Cusak as Nixon took me a bit out of the movie, but the rest of the supporting cast all do a fine job. Particularly notable is Terrence Howard, who has designs on Cecil's wife.
Some of the scenes could have been better served by a bit more subtlety, but that said, it's still a very worthwhile film that serves as a powerful and valuable history lesson, that will ultimately move you
On our NY 1 Big Apple Rating Scale, out of a possible four, I';m giving The Butler three apples.