By Earl K. (Dallas,Texas, USA)


Serving Up The Butler

I was able to see The Butler and thought it was solid/good film…but not great, IMO. I wasn’t as impressed as the enormous hype it was getting. Yes, it was a solid film, but not a great, not a legendary film. Maybe the subject and an all-star cast has influenced viewers and critics to believe it’s a better movie than what it was, but I wasn’t that impressed by it.

Actually I was easily more impressed with the role and acting performance of actor David Oyelowo as Louis Gaines, the son of Cecil Gaines (Forrest Whitaker) than anyone else in the film. I saw him grow into his role as a reserved teen (though he looks somewhat too old for a “teen”) that became more personally involved and affected by difficult, traumatic events ranging from Emitt Till tragedy, desegregation of public schools, boycott lunch counter sit-ins, destruction of freedom bus rides, assassinations of JFK and MLK, protesting Vietnam War, black panther movement, African apartheid, to political elections. Ironically there wasn’t much of any coverage with assassination of Malcolm X in the film.

Although it was supposedly a Father and Son connection throughout the film, Oyelowo’s raw presence and emotional performance overpowered Whitaker to where it seemed more like a Son and Father film. And even the brief frictions and the eventual reunion didn’t move me like I would have expected so. Also I never got a take for Cecil’s view and impressions on the Civil Rights leaders of his era (ala King and Malcolm X). Even his breakdown upon news of JFK passing was too brief and not developed enough for my liking.

While I appreciate the role of Forrest Whitaker as an influential butler who served under several historical US presidents, but didn’t want to “rock the boat” with his past and personal views, I really wasn’t that in awe with his delivery of his acting performance in that capacity as it was hyped to be. Don’t get me wrong, I did think it was solid enough performance but Oscar worthy? Hmmmm…

I liked him when he became elated with the news of having the honor of being the White House butler than when he was fairly entrenched and at the White House – I really wasn’t moved by any of his correspondences or conversations with presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, etc.

Speaking of the presidents, all were performed by big name actors Robin Williams (Eisenhower), John Cusack (Nixon), Liev Schreiber (Lyndon B Johnson), James Marsden (Kennedy) and Alan Rickman (Reagan). Sorry, but I couldn’t buy into Williams as Eisenhower (even with the makeup effect), and John Cusack as R. Nixon was so miscast and the makeup effect was even more ineffective. For a while, I just couldn’t figure WTH was he even was supposed to be until someone finally said his name. I thought Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan (though very brief cameo appearance) and Alan Rickman (remember him as villain from 1st Die Hard and Harry Potter film?) as Ronald Reagan were excellent and very interesting choices.

Not to spoil the full event but there was one more moment I enjoyed Whitakers’ Cecil role was when he had a final confrontation with his top boss to whom he felt very underpaid and under-appreciated.

I actually enjoyed Cuba Gooding Jr. supporting role as Carter Wilson, Cecil Gaines’ butler co-worker and friend (even much more than I did Oprah Winfrey’s role as Gloria Gaines.) Gooding’s character brought most of the most humorous moments in the film, such that I had hoped to see even more of him.

I never really got into Oprah’s character role as Gloria Gaines as outstanding but I thought it was solid enough, just not a very memorable one. Not anything near what she’s done in Color Purple and The Women of Brewster Place. I actually thought she was portraying a role that many more inspiring veteran actresses could have done. But her big name and significant appearance in the film became attracting and appealed to movie-goers.

Terrence Howard had a brief appearance in the film but his very odd exit (hearsay news) from the film did not make him missed (and I didn’t see the infamous Howard/Oprah kiss that was much talked about). His role started out intriguing and entertaining earlier in the film, but it just wasn’t that developed, combined that with the odd exit, and it is not going to be memorable at all.

I thought the character role of model Yaya Alafia as Louis Gaines classmate and later on companion started out interesting as she was timid but grew into a more stronger personality and I thought her role was going to lead to a more dramatic finish but it didn’t. And just when I was introduced to Oyelowo’s younger brother (played by Elijah Kelley) in his own short humor, his exit was just as quick and abrupt as Terrence Howard’s. Very, very brief and underdeveloped. Because we saw so little of him, it was very difficult for me to have a really moving feeling when he exited the film.

A small interest as Nelsan Ellis — best known as Lafayette from True Blood portrays Martin Luther King to have a brief conversation with young Louis Gaines, but like many of the presidents and other significant figures and faces, he was out of the film without showing the act. Ditto with JFK’s exit. This was probably my biggest peeves about the film. When a famous figure is quickly introduced and need to be developed more to get some kind of emotional rapport, they are quickly eliminated from the film without any act of showing how they passed (breaking TV or radio news). So it was odd and confusing moments that I didn’t connect with when they did move on.

I like that the film reflects upon several eventful historical moments and figure faces in several eras of the Civil Rights movement, but I wish it could have been better developed and more emotionally dramatic in some of the more dramatic events, but it still has its solid moments.

Rating: 6.5/10

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