The Butler

Film, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(8user reviews)
The Butler

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

To mark the 2008 Obama election, the Washington Post wrote about Eugene Allen, a black butler who had spent 34 years serving at the White House. Such a meeting of the generations provided such a perfect symbol of a changing America, it’s no surprise it inspired this fictionalised version. Yet somehow this broadly positive central idea works against the more complex themes underpinning ‘Precious’ director Lee Daniels’s potted tale.

We grasp the big idea from the off as elderly Forest Whitaker waits in the White House lobby for you-know-who to arrive. So when a flashback returns us to the unforgiving 1920s Deep South, the future pattern of the movie, playing Whitaker’s symbolic black experience against the historical milestones of successive presidencies (represented by high-profile cameos from Robin Williams, John Cusack, Alan Rickman and others), already seems set in stone.

As such, ‘The Butler’ proves a decent, significant, but slightly stodgy affair. Its dignified restraint stifles its anger. The devil is in the detail though, since Whitaker’s admirably controlled performance shows a man so worn down by presenting a docile front for his employers that he’s unable to grasp the worth of his college-educated son’s civil rights radicalism. There’s even appreciation for the fortitude of the housewife caught between the two men (Oprah Winfrey, alternately sassy and very affecting), typifying the film’s generosity of spirit towards the spectrum of black America.

The result isn’t as powerful as it should be. But it’s still cheering to see a film whose moral journey has little to do with the usual Hollywood chestnut of white middle-class consciousness-raising.



Release details

Release date:
Friday November 15 2013
132 mins

Cast and crew

Lee Daniels
Danny Strong
Forest Whitaker
Oprah Winfrey
David Oyelowo
Robin Williams
John Cusack
Alan Rickman

Users say (8)

4 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:4
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:1
2 people listening

I thought this was an excellent movie and a fantastic way to tell the tale of the first black Butler in The White House. The acting was super and some of the the scenes had me gripped on the edge of my seat. However it is always a little disappointing when some of the true story is changed, although I understand that the idea was to try and pull together a picture of America at that time in history and the awful things that happened under slavery, and later, segregation, so they changed some parts of the story to emphasise that. I guess that's what we call poetic license.

I echo Juan Carlos, below in saying the TO review is pretty much spot-on. A little more cinematic oomph, a little less "soap" would have improved this affecting drama from good to excellent. Three and a half stars.

The review has the film pretty much right. It is a good film that should have been much better. At times it descends to cliche and just can't resist taking a couple of below the belt digs at Ronald Reagan which perhaps Daniels felt he couldn't resist when perhaps he should have. The film would have perhaps been much better for not doing it. These digs would appear to be unworthy particularly as the film shows that it was Reagan that finally gave the coloured staff equal pay. Its a good film not the game changer some would have you believe. As Chuck D would say "Don't believe the hype!". A good 3 star film, maybe 7 out of 10.

Never a dull moment and take a hankie along. Dignified man trying to do his job as father and servant in most unforgiving environment. Go see it.

Never a dull moment and take a hankie along. Dignified man trying to do his job as father and servant in most unforgiving environment. Go see it.