The Butler: Blu Ray Review
Released by Universal Home Ent
In The Butler, Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines, an African-American butler in the White House. Gaines served 34 years in the employ of various presidents. It begins with Gaines reflecting back on his life as he waits to meet Barack Obama.
Taking in his father's death at a cotton plantation and then being taught the ways of servitude before ending up in Washington after being hand picked by a White House head-hunter. Gaines finds his place in the serving world and forms a relationship with fellow butlers (played by Cuba Gooding Jr and Lenny Kravitz).
Against this backdrop of serving eight Presidents from 1957 to the 1980s,The Butler also focuses on the tempestuous Civil Rights movement and race relations as Gaines negotiates his own family woes - from a growing alcoholic wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) to a politically active son Louis (a tremendous performance by former Spooks star David Oyelowo), who can't stay away from the fight for the African-American quest for independence.
Lee Daniels' The Butler is of the ilk of The Help; it showcases an ugly chapter in America's history and attempts to use Hollywood to bring to life certain moments which have been swept under the carpet. Based on the life of Eugene Allen, it's nothing short of unsubtle in places to be honest; once again, the message is repeatedly sledge-hammered home when a simple more understated approach would have worked wonders.
Whitaker is venerable as Gaines, and Winfrey is stoic as his wife; but Lee Daniels' The Butler belongs more to Oyelowo who captures the antagonism of the father/ son / Civil Rights conflict perfectly and subtly with a performance that's captivating in among the sentimental, plodding mush of the predictable story.
It's weird as well as thanks to the various castings of the different presidents (Robin Williams as Eisenhower, John Cusack as Nixon, James Marsden as JFK, Alan Rickman as Reagan), you start to become distracted by who will be next in the presidential parade.
Overall, Lee Daniels' The Butler is one of those kind of cloying, race relations, Oscar-baiting films which is servicably made, but lacks the tenacity to bring the subtlety at strong moments, resulting in the direction feeling more heavy handed than anything. It's a shame because after a while, the plodding nature of parts of the film begin to grate and irritate, rather than inspire and appal as it should do.
Extras: Doco, behind the scenes, deleted scenes, gag reel, music video