Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Cinema - The Butler

Lee Daniels' The Butler.

I had been hearing a lot about this movie. A lot of good things. And since I love historical films, especially ones based on a true story, I knew I had to see this one.

I'm not sure I can truthfully say this was a fantastic movie, or one of the best I've seen. But it was good. And very, very interesting.

The premise of the film is the telling of the story of Cecil Gaines (convincingly played by Forest Whitaker). From a young black boy born as a slave in the turn of the century South to a prestigious position as a butler in the White House where he worked for 8 administrations. We watch as Cecil grows from a young sharecropper slave's son through the 1960's civil rights movement and on into the Reagan era of the 1980's. All the while, Cecil is a passive witness to history in the making from his point of view in the nation's capitol.

Okay, so the film is only loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen who served as a butler for those 8 presidents. And of course, this is Hollywood so there are many liberties taken with Mr. Allen's life story. But I get it. And I'm okay with it. After all, a movie is up on the big screen to entertain and at times enlighten. And "The Butler" sure does this, and more.

The viewer plays along as a silent witness to the many important, world altering events in recent American history. Discriminatory laws that favored America's white citizens. Freedom Riders. Woolworth's lunch counter. Black Panthers. The Vietnam War.

All of these events are starkly contrasted against Cecil's insular world behind the scenes at the stately, heavily guarded White House. And we lucky viewers are invited to peek in, to a world we are normally not exposed to. 

From the beginning to the end of this film, the viewer's interest is captured and held. Forest is certainly the glue that holds it all together. His performance is stellar. Watch for the terrific scene about half-way through where he attempts to procure equal pay for the African-American staff. Brilliant!

Other than Forest Whitaker, the film stars an unlikely cast. Talk show mega-maven Oprah Winfrey adequately portrays Cecil's wife. She may not win an Oscar for this performance, but she is believable as a woman of her time. She's authentic.

The film stars a veritable who's who of a-listers. There's a "blink and you'll miss it" star turn from diva Mariah Carey and talented actress Lynn Redgraves. And even hunky singer Lenny Kravitz as a butler working alongside Cecil. Unfortunately, I was not impressed with the actors who portrayed the presidents and their wives (with the exception of Jane Fonda, who uncannily portrayed Nancy Reagan).

No, this wasn't one of the best films I've ever seen, but I enjoyed it. It initiated a deep thought conversation between hubby and I on the ride home from the theater. We re-lived the days of our childhood, how we responded to events like the civil rights movement, and the assassinations of President Kennedy, his brother Robert and Martin Luther King. And thought about how the country has moved forwarded since then.

Conclusion:  We've come a long way, baby, but we still got a long way to go.

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