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Lee Daniels' The Butler

By MATTHEW KORFHAGE
Every time a character in The Butler goes on a trip, somebody offers him a ham sandwich. Director Lee Daniels does much the same for the viewer—in every single scene. It isn’t hard to see why Daniels wanted to tell this story, which is based (very) loosely on truth. It’s kind of irresistible: A black White House butler, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker, having lost so much weight he looks a bit like Mr. Toad), serves closely with every U.S. president during the civil rights era and lives to be invited back to the White House by Barack Obama. The black man in the White House proceeds from invisibly serving power to sitting in it. But the writer of The Paperboy isn’t known for subtlety, and he treats 50 years of U.S. history with as much depth as a Forrest Gump montage, although the politics here are triumphally progressive. As a movie, The Butler is a blundering oaf with good intentions, effusively sentimental but cursed with hands made of mutton. A lot of the real fun is in the casting, which ranges from expected—Oprah Winfrey as Cecil’s earthy and soulful wife—to entirely ludicrous: a sniveling Robin Williams as Eisenhower, an outmatched Minka Kelly as Jackie Kennedy. The best joke in the movie is the casting of “Hanoi Jane” Fonda as Nancy Reagan. The film’s full title is Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and the subject of the movie doesn’t matter, because Lee Daniels has decided that Lee Daniels is going to make you cry, and he’s going to hit you over the head until you do.
 
  • Genres: Biography, Docudrama
  • Running Time: 132 minutes
  • Release Date: Friday, August 16, 2013
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 [ Disturbing Images, Language, Sexual Material, Smoking, Some Violence, Thematic Elements ]
  • Critic's Score: D
  • Starring: Forest Whitaker [Cecil Gaines], Oprah Winfrey [Gloria Gaines], John Cusack [Richard Nixon], Jane Fonda [Nancy Reagan], Cuba Gooding Jr. [Carter Wilson], Terrence Howard [Howard], Lenny Kravitz [James Holloway], James Marsden [John F. Kennedy], David Oyelowo [Louis Gaines], Vanessa Redgrave [Annabeth Westfall], Alan Rickman [Ronald Reagan], Liev Schreiber [Lyndon B. Johnson], Robin Williams [Dwight Eisenhower], Clarence Williams [Maynard], Mariah Carey [Hattie Pearl], Nelsan Ellis [Martin Luther King Jr.], Yaya Alafia [Carol Hammie], Colman Domingo [Freddie Fallows], Minka Kelly [Jackie Kennedy], Elijah Kelley [Charlie Gaines], Alex Pettyfer [Thomas Westfall], Jesse Williams [Rev. James Lawson]
  • Directed by: Lee Daniels [Director], Danny Strong [Screenwriter], Pamela Oas Williams [Producer], Laura Ziskin [Producer], Lee Daniels [Producer], Buddy Patrick [Producer], Cassian Elwes [Producer], Michael Finley [Executive Producer], Sheila Johnson [Executive Producer], Harvey Weinstein [Executive Producer], Bob Weinstein [Executive Producer], Len Blavatnik [Executive Producer], Aviv Giladi [Executive Producer], Vince Holden [Executive Producer], Hilary Shor [Executive Producer], Adam Merims [Executive Producer], James Bruce [Executive Producer], R. Wright [Executive Producer], Liz Destro [Executive Producer], Jordan Kessler [Executive Producer], Andrew Dunn [Cinematographer], Joe Klotz [Film Editor], Tim Galvin [Production Design], Billy Hopkins [Casting], Leah Daniels-Butler [Casting], Ruth Carter [Costume Designer], Rodrigo Leao [Original Music], Jason Stewart [Art Director], Diane Lederman [Set Decoration]
  • Visit the Movie Website | Watch the trailer
 

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