The Butler ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
The Butler is a panoramic view of recent American history seen through the eyes of a White House butler, Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker), who served under eight presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower almost through the present day. Cecil’s wife, Gloria, is played by Oprah Winfrey. Gloria is frequently lonely and unhappy because Cecil’s job at the White House takes up so much of his time. They have two sons, Louis and Charlie, and a nice house in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Cecil has a better life than he ever expected to have, considering his humble beginnings and his lack of an education.
As a child Cecil lives with his family on a cotton plantation in Macon, Georgia. When his father is unjustly shot and killed, the family takes Cecil into the house as a house servant. They teach him all things connected with serving at table. He finds this work much easier than working in the cotton fields.
After a few years he leaves the Georgia plantation and ends up in Washington, D.C., where he lands a job in a hotel as a servant. He is well liked and does his job well. An older man whom he befriends at the hotel recommends him for a job at the White House. When he goes for an interview, he is hired, much to his surprise.
Cecil is so good at his job at the White House because, besides being so accommodating to those he serves, he is nearly invisible. He doesn’t talk about anything he might overhear and doesn’t express any opinions. No matter which political party the current president represents, Cecil remains the same: polite, respectful, and unobtrusive. (“May I do anything else for you, Mr. President?”) There is no political message in this movie. Political ideology is never mentioned.
A subplot in The Butler involves Cecil’s older son, Louis. When he grows up, he becomes involved in the Civil Rights movement in the South. Eventually he becomes more radical and a member of the Black Panther political party. He ends up in jail several times. He clashes with his parents, particularly his father, about his political views. The younger son, Charlie, goes into the army and to Viet Nam. He tells his brother, Louis, “You fight your country. I want to fight for my country.”
Don’t let the naysayers or the Oprah detractors keep you from seeing The Butler. While it’s not the greatest movie ever made or maybe even one of the best movies of the year, it is definitely worth seeing. It’s a little slow in places and probably longer than it needs to be, but the overall impression is a favorable one.
Jane Fonda alert: I don’t like her either and am offended by her presence wherever she is, but she only has a couple of minutes on-screen as Nancy Reagan near the end of the movie. Take a little during nap during her one brief scene and forget she’s even there. Don’t let it spoil the whole movie for you.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp