Forest Whitaker : Cecil Gaines
Oprah Winfrey : Gloria Gaines
John Cusack : Richard Nixon
Robin Williams : Eisenhower
Cecil Gaines was a sharecropper’s son who grew up in the 1920s as a domestic servant for the white family who casually destroyed his. Eventually striking out on his own, Cecil becomes a hotel valet of such efficiency and discreteness in the 1950s that he becomes a butler in the White House itself. There, Cecil would serve numerous US Presidents over the decades as a passive witness of history with the American Civil Rights Movement gaining momentum even as his family has troubles of its own. As his wife, Gloria, struggles with her addictions and his defiant eldest son, Louis, strives for a just world, Cecil must decide whether he should take action in his own way.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
“The Butler” is a fascinating historical look at the struggle of the African- American population for equal rights and an equal dignity over the years in the U.S. I’m not sure if it’s completely accurate and historically correct. To be honest, I was afraid it was going to be as boring as “Lincoln”,but for 2 hours it got my complete attention. And that for a movie that’s based on historical facts. If only history lessons were like this movie. I do think it should be mandatory teaching material. A lot of people will say that this film is strategically launched in order to qualify for an Oscar nomination and even receive a few of them. To be honest I am not hundred percent sure bout that. And if that’s a motive to skip this movie, you’ll actually miss one of the best movies of this year.
A lot of famous stars perform in this film : John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, James Marsden, Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave. Even Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey played in it. Although I didn’t recognize them immediately. However it’s the lead players who have made a big impression on me. Forest Whitaker is superb as Cecil Gaines, the butler who worked for eight U.S. presidents and went through the whole history. From the cotton fields to the election of Obama as president. In my opinion his best performance ever. Despite his passivity, he still shows in a way that he is ambitious and courageous. I thought he was fighting a silent battle against the injustice that was done to him. The scenes where he was present in “The Oval Room” with the president having a discussion with his advisers, I found sometimes really touching. Most of these discussions were about controversial issues that have to do with the colored population. The way they ignored him as if he was a piece of furniture while those matters actually concerned him. I also found it amazing how his aging was realized. Everything is right and put in a convincing way. On the other hand, Whitaker has a kind of a sad face with eyes like Droopy. So making him look sad and concerned wasn’t a hard job.
The person who made the biggest impression on me is Oprah Winfrey who played the role of Gloria Gaines. To be honest, I started watching without any notion of what VIP’s were playing here in this movie. When I finally recognized her as that annoying attention-grabbing talk show blabbermouth who always looks for commercial advantage, I was still pleasantly surprised by her acting performance. I would even say giving her this role was a big surplus and positive thing for this movie. And David Oyelowo played a starring role as the son Louis. A quiet boy who gradually hated the way his father thought about the issues that concerned the colored people and began to rebel and participated in the famous sit ins in places where blacks were not allowed, the Freedom Buses and later The Black Panthers. The peak of dullness in this film is of course the reconciliation with his father at the end.
The advantage to watch without knowing who’s playing in this movie is that you always get surprised when familiar faces show up. The most successful I found Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Also Minka Kelly as Jacqueline Kennedy did pretty well. Robin Williams however was a miscast in my opinion. Not because of his acting performance but I expected every moment he was going to put on a red clowns nose and throw in a funny one-liner to finish.
The film itself covered a lot of historical events : The cotton plantation, the first blacks at a university, the Freedom Buses, the Ku Klux Klan, JFK, Sidney Poitier, Vietnam, the death of Luther King, Mandela and Obama. That’s a lot to cover in a single movie. But it didn’t really bother me.
A must-see movie for me at least. It’s basically a cinematic documentary of the darkest, ugliest and saddest period in American history. And sadly it’s still actual and happens day by day in our modern civilized society. And then realizing it wasn’t that long ago. For me definitely an Oscar worthy. But let’s hope this movie is the apotheosis on this subject cause recent years we were flooded by such movies.
My rating 9 /10
Links : IMDB