The Butler Offers a Glimpse Into the Past

Rated: 8/10

Starting in the middle of the prohibition era and ending with Obama’s inauguration, Lee Daniel’s The Butler is a film that covers a vast time period and excels in storytelling. As the title would suggest, the lead character, Cecil Gaines (Played by Forest Whitaker) is a butler who works at the White House. During his servitude, he finds himself working amongst 8 presidents throughout the course of the movie.{{more}} Despite its name, The Butler is not a movie that focuses solely on Cecil’s tenure in the White House. The movie’s scope is actually much broader than that, and feels more like a historical adventure than anything else, as it focuses on Cecil and his family struggling through some of the most difficult and depressing times in history.

Cecil is intelligent, friendly, and witty when he needs to be. He’s also a loving father, a hard worker, and an overall lovable character, making him an excellent protagonist. Having grown up on a cotton farm and watching his father get tragically murdered before his eyes, Cecil does everything in his power to ensure that nobody in his family will ever be treated so poorly again.

However not everyone sees Cecil’s controversial job in the White House as a good thing. As Cecil’s children grow up, they begin to question the segregated life they’re living, and end up getting involved with radical groups such as The Black Panthers, The Freedom Riders, and the infamous Ku Klux Klan. Witnessing these intense moments and seeing Cecil struggle to protect his sons from the more twisted elements of society provide for some of the movies most powerful moments.

Surprisingly, the scenes where Cecil interacts with the various presidents’ aren’t nearly as memorable, and while they aren’t bad by any means, they just leave something to be desired. Nevertheless, seeing Cecil interact with JFK before he delivers his Civil Rights Address is touching, and seeing the various white house personalities acted out on the big screen is interesting to say the least.

In fact, Cecil’s role as a Butler isn’t really touched on; the focus is directed more towards the many historical events such as the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, and how the various characters react to these events. Luckily, The Butler delivers a phenomenal cast that includes the likes of Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, and David Banner. The acting is solid all-around, the movie is incredibly well written, and it even dabbles in humor and lighthearted moments; never fully abandoning its serious, and often dark tone.

While The Butler is indeed excellent, it isn’t quite perfect. The pacing is a little too fast, and the transitions between the time periods often left me confused. While Forest Whitaker plays a fantastic, charming character, his role as a butler seems insignificant to the bigger picture, and is downplayed more than it should be. Other than that, The Butler is a movie that demands to be seen; it’s an authentic, well-made movie that’s just as emotionally engaging as it is memorable. Oh, and bring a handkerchief. You may need it for the ending.

When written this was playing at Cinema De Lux 14 (In Milford), Bow Tie Criterion Cinema (In New Haven), Seymour Cinema 12 (In Seymour), and most other local theaters around Connecticut.

Sean Sayers is a resident of Orange.