Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

September 23, 2013

‘The Butler’ lost amid powerful performances

Movie Review

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat — Dramatic emphasis is one element of historical film making forgiven more often than not as long as the end result provides a tolerable tribute through entertainment. Increasingly popular uses of such emphasis is the “Civil Rights Era” as it is one of the most compelling time periods to comment on the dark depths a human soul will descend.

The year has already produced one winner with the Jackie Robinson inspired “42,” a biographical submission I would certainly nominate as at least a contender for best picture. Today’s subject follows a similar path, inspired this time by a real individual named “Eugene Allen,” who lived as an example of severe inequalities and overcame them by earning the respect of several of our nations most celebrated presidents. “The Butler” cannot be denied certain level of admiration for approaching what is still an uncomfortable discussion, but perhaps misses a few marks by almost burying the very figure we should salute.

Audiences should be aware that the film starts off right away with the first example that was not exactly drawn from real life with the traumatic Macon, Georgia childhood of our butler, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker). A commentary of how rough servitude could be even years after slavery was outlawed; his best chance at survival turns out to be getting as far away from that bleak plantation in a “Forrest Gump” like journey where he must make the best of a world that would just as soon trample him beneath their feet.

The butler’s best lot even as he ends up out of the south is to serve the upper crust of white society, eventually working his way to the Whitehouse in Washington D.C. Quite a bit of this is done in a compelling way through the characters he interacts with from his wife Gloria Gaines (Oprah Winfrey) to his co-workers like fellow white house staff, Carter Wilson (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). What takes away not so much in a bad way, but rather distracting fashion, is the again fictionalized struggles of his eldest son Louis Gaines (David Oyelowo), who seems to have to, despite his father’s concern, be a civil rights superhero through every event in the 1960s from being Martin Luther King’s best bud to a black panther.

It really is a flick carried by acting chops when the credits roll, from the fantastic ethic portrayed by Whitaker the commander in Chiefs themselves, including a hilariously crude Lyndon B. Johnson (Liev Schreiber) or a not expanded upon enough Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams). Perhaps the only leader that seemed out of place was Alan Rickman’s Ronald Reagan, well not so much his portrayal, but the butchering attempt at his iconic accent.

Much like my wife pointed out, it’s not so much that it’s a film underserving of praise, but something perhaps caught up in the hype a bit overblown. It’s worth checking out if you want something that is a fine way to discuss how we cannot repeat the real mistakes that happened and recommended for that alone. In the end, I respectfully give “The Butler” three out of five victories.