Lee Daniel’s The Butler (♦♦♦♦½)
Cecil Gaines was born in the cotton fields in the American South in 1920. When he was six years old, Cecil saw the landowner--of the fields where he worked along his parents-- kill his father from a shot because he raised his voice to protest the rape of his wife. That very day, Cecil was transferred from the fields to house service where he learned how to become a house servant.
At thirty years old after working at a luxurious hotel in Washington DC, Cecil was invited to the White House and the next he knew he became a butler at the White House. He got to serve eight seating presidents while his family life was crumbling in part due to his wife’s unhappiness and his elder son’s affiliations to pacifist protests that derived in the Civil Rights Movement. For years Cecil saw his elder son go to jail for his protest activities to gain equal rights for African Americans in society.
Cecil lost a son in the Vietnam War, which he supported but really didn’t understand, and had a fallout with the other son and they stayed in non-speaking terms for years until Cecil understood that his son had been a hero.
Lee Daniel's The Butler is the first great movie of this year. It's virtually a who's who in entertainment: Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Gaines, Mariah Carey, Alex Pettyfer and Vanessa Redgrave in cameo appearances, Terence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr. as a butler, Robin Williams as Eisenhower, Liev Schriver as Lyndon Johnson, James Marsden and Minka Kelly as Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan and David Oyelowo as Louis Gaines, Cecil’s eldest son.
With Forest Whitaker in the leading role in perhaps his third best performance ever after The Last King of Scotland and The Great Debaters, The Butler is an account on the life of a man who made powerful changes in very subtle ways. It is a film which mirrors convulse times in American history through the life of an African American family and the changes its members went through.
Ghandi said “you must be the change you want to see in the world” and the Civil Rights Movement though it turned violent and messy was a necessary step toward the improvement if not reparation of racial relations and tensions in American society.
The Butler pays homage to the life of a great yet quiet man who changed lives for the better.
Lee Daniel's The Butler deserves to be cherished and discussed for its social message as well as for its cinematographic virtues.