I don’t know how someone could have conceived cramming a ninety-year story into a two-hour movie, but the stuffing paid off in The Butler. The problem was obvious: the scenes were going to fly by too fast for viewers to really connect with the characters. The solution held equal pandemonium: The Butler needed as many famous actors and actresses as possible.
Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) plays Cecil, a born-in-hell / raised-in-heaven motif with an education in obedience. As he ages, Cecil witnesses the Civil Rights movement from start to finish, from a cotton field in the South to a television depicting Barack Obama winning the presidency. His wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) raises the kids, one of whom is named Louis (David Oyelowo, Lincoln) and is a radical Black Panther Party member. Of course, Louis’ and Cecil’s motives clash repeatedly.
The story whips by at neck-jerking speed through nine decades of American history. Presidents Eisenhower (Robert Williams, Mrs. Doubtfire), Nixon (John Cusack, 2012), and Reagan (Alan Rickman, the Harry Potter films), amongst other Presidents in that time span appear with many tongue-in-cheek comedic moments. The problem is, nobody receives enough breathing room to truly stand out (with the exception of great performances by Whitaker and Oprah, the latter of whom could receive an Oscar nod simply because she’s Oprah).
The Butler is a great film with ambitions set too high. The plot’s inconsistency is thankfully balanced with enough cameos to make Adam West’s Batman roll his eyes in disbelief. I still can’t remember half the people who were in this film; that must mean I need to watch it again!
By: Derrick Higgins | Managing Editor