The Butler

One quiet voice can ignite a revolution.

Forest Whitaker is Cecil Gaines - a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades - in this chronicle of the American civil rights movements from director Lee Daniels (Precious). Features an all-star cast including Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson and Oprah Winfrey as Gaines' wife.

Based on the life of Eugene Allen, the story follows him from youth working on cotton farms to the top rank of butlers at the White House. During his tenure, Gaines witnesses the dramatic changes that swept American society from the civil rights movement to Vietnam.

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Drama, True Story & Biography, Historical

132mins

Rating: M Mature themes, violence and coarse language

USA

Official Site

When first interviewed for the butler’s job, Cecil Gaines is informed: “We have no tolerance for politics at the White House.” Yes, it’s easy for cynics to sneer, but with every main character afforded some complexity, what could have been Civil Rights 101 from the daytime TV-movie school is nowhere near as black and white.

Inspired by the real life of White House butler Eugene Allen, Lee Daniels (Precious) takes the ‘truth’ and ladles on heaps of Hollywood fiction. Creating the character of Cecil allows the film to take in a sweeping history of US Civil Rights - from the harsh life of a 1920s Southern cotton picker, to an audience with the newly elected Obama. Yes, it could easily be accused of oversentimentality, simplification, liberal leanings and melodramatic flourishes - but then, so could Gandhi and Forrest Gump.

The minor cast reads like a dream talkshow guest list - Jane Fonda, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, Terrence Howard, Vanessa Redgrave - but they’re all pretty good. As the Presidents, Alan Rickman makes a great Reagan, Robin Williams a fine Eisenhower, Liev Schreiber a light-relief Lyndon Johnson. The only casting hiccup is John Cusack who remains uncannily unlike Nixon, fake nose and all. But the spotlight belongs to Forest Whitaker as Cecil and Oprah Winfrey as his wife Gloria, with both delivering superbly-realised performances.

The unshowy direction serves a script juxtaposing racism, sexism, sentimentality and serious social concern. It may be a TV movie writ large, (think Roots with Winfrey), but it works because, true or not, there’s enough warmth, intelligence, heart, humour and humanity at the core of The Butler to serve as more than superficial entertainment.

Guardian (UK)

press

A great film about the American civil rights movement is way overdue. The Butler, overwhelmed by flash and good intentions, doesn't even come close.

Hollywood Reporter

press

Even with all contrivances and obvious point-making and familiar historical signposting, [it's] always engaging, often entertaining and certainly never dull.

New York Times

press

A brilliantly truthful film on a subject that is usually shrouded in wishful thinking, mythmongering and outright denial.

Sunday Age (Australia)

press

A self-conscious, would-be historical drama that's too distracted by star cameos and domestic strife to be truly effective.

The Dissolve (USA)

press

In its bid to sum up the black experience in America, loses sight of the man at the film's core.

Time Out New York

press

Look beyond the film's dewy-eyed, seemingly Wikipedia-sourced trappings and you'll see Daniels hasn't gone Oscar-bait-crazy.

Variety (USA)

press

Whitaker digs in deep and gives a marvelous under-the-skin performance; he seems to catch the very essence of a man who has spent his whole life trying not to be seen.

Empire (UK)

press

Manipulative and preachy, The Butler is redeemed by a sensitive performance from Forest Whitaker and the undeniable power of the events it depicts.

Superb

Forest Whitaker's with held performance here compared with his barn storming one in The Last King of Scotland shows the amazing range he has as a performer. An engaging true story that should not be missed.


A Must Watch!!

This film is incredible... Thats all I need to say... Watch It!!!

Forest Whittaker delivers on a silver platter...


amazing from start to finish

The details of wardrobe and make up blew me away. The chemestry was there and the acting superb. Best movie I saw this year and miss 13 said the same.