Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler - 2 stars

This movie tells the life story of Cecil Gaines, who worked on a cotton plantation as a kid and grew up to be a butler in the White House.  He would end up serving 7 presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan.  The movie was inspired by a true story, meaning almost none of it is true.

The writing is very uneven.  One problem is there are way too many events to put into one movie.  Cecil is serving Eisenhower while he is discussing the integration of the schools, and a few minutes later he's helping welcome the new president, JFK.  There is a conversation about the Freedom Riders, then JFK is shot.  Each of the presidents only gets a few scenes. 

Most of the screen time is devoted to Cecil and his co-workers, or his family.  The scenes with his co-workers are interesting, mostly thanks to Cuba Gooding, Jr. doing the best work he has done in years.  Lenny Kravitz plays another one of his co-workers, but he is as bland as his music.

The scenes with his family were the ones that bored me the most, I'm afraid.  His wife is played by Oprah Winfrey, and we don't really learn much about her.  For most of the movie, she is complaining about how much time Cecil spends at work. 

One of Cecil's sons gets involved with just about every aspect of the Civil Rights Movement.  He is arrested many times, first for sitting at the whites only counter at a diner in Tennessee.  Soon he is working with Martin Luther King (staying at the same hotel when Dr. King is assassinated), and later he is a member of the Black Panthers.

This is an interesting juxtaposition.  While all of these important events are going on, Cecil is at the White House hearing the presidents talk about them.  He is trying to get his son to stay out of trouble while his son is passionate about doing whatever he can for equal rights.  It has a lot of potential, but too much time is spent with Cecil dealing with his wife, who becomes an alcoholic and starts having an affair with a neighbor played by Terence Howard. 

I was looking forward to seeing how well the actors would do portraying the presidents, and I was disappointed with how little screen time they had.  I was especially looking forward to Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan.  What an interesting choice that was. 

This is one of those movies that's about really important events in our history.  It's just a shame the movie didn't turn out better.

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