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White House butler Cecil Gaines serves during seven
presidential administrations between 1957 and 1986. The film begins in 1926 and follows a young Cecil as he
escapes the tyranny of the fiercely segregated South in search of a better life. Along his arduous
journey to manhood Cecil learns invaluable skills that ultimately lead to an opportunity of a
lifetime: a job as a butler at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There, Cecil becomes a firsthand witness
to history and the inner workings of the Oval Office as the civil rights movement unfolds. At
home, his loving wife Gloria raises their two sons, and the family benefits from a
comfortable middle-class existence enabled by Cecil's White House position. But Cecil's
commitment to his "First Family" fosters tensions at home, alienating Gloria and creating conflict
with his anti-establishment son.
Drama - This is a decades-spanning drama inspired by a true story, with a
large ensemble cast, but many of the big names appear in very brief
roles, a number of whom only show up for a scene or two. This is a
big showcase for lead Forest Whitaker, with Oprah Winfrey making a
return to acting in a major supporting role. Language, violence, and
mature subject matter may be of concern for parents of young
children, but the historical content may make the film of value for
parents of older pre-teens.
PROFANITY: 1 F-word; 11 S-words; 5 GD's; many others. SEX/NUDITY: A nude drawing. VIOLENCE: Shootings and hits. DRUGS/ALCOHOL: Frequent alcohol and tobacco. ACTION: An explosion. COMEDY: Some comic lines.
Roger EbertFull Review Good Daniels delights in his actors, all of whom accept the challenge of bringing something true and vibrant to their various sketchily written characters with the enthusiasm of celebrity competition-show contestants...
USA TodayFull Review Good It's inspiring and filled with fine performances, but the insistently swelling musical score and melodramatic moments seem calculated and undercut a powerful story.
NY PostFull Review Above Average 'Lee Daniels' The Butler'' is a star-filled, if heavy-handed, labor of love that certainly has its heart in the right place, and scores dramatically often enough to recommend it.
Note: The rating
above is our interpretation of what the critic would give this movie based on
their review. We are not affiliated with these critic's in any way.
OPINION OVERVIEW The following is the original "What's Worth
Watching" write-up for this movie.
Based on a theater exit polling of 72 moviegoers:
TEENS:One female loved it and one rated it average (enjoyable but not memorable).
TWENTYSOMETHINGS:One male loved it and one rated it average (enjoyable but not memorable).
ADULTS:GREAT REVIEWS, especially from the ladies. Three-quarters of them LOVED "THE BUTLER," with most of the rest indicating it was an above average movie that they enjoyed very much. The male reviews are only slightly lower. Just over half loved it with nearly all the rest rating it a movie they enjoyed very much. Only a tiny percentage of both males and females rated it as low as average with no one indicating that they disliked it.
Set against the tumultuous political backdrop of 20th century America, Academy Award
nominated director Lee Daniels' (PRECIOUS) epic drama LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER tells the story
of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), an African American butler who serves at the White House
during seven presidential administrations between 1957 and 1986.
Inspired by Wil Haygood's 2008 Washington Post article "A Butler Well Served by This Election"
about the real life of former White House butler Eugene Allen, LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER traces the
dramatic civil rights struggles that ultimately made it possible for an African American to rise to
the highest position in the White House with the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
Opening in the fiercely segregated South in 1926, young Cecil Gaines works with his family in the
cotton fields of Macon, GA. The tragic death of his father at the hands of his employer opens up
unexpected opportunities for a young and impressionable Cecil, who is then taught the duties of
a house servant under the critical eye of the plantation's white matriarch. Armed with these new
skills and concerned for his own life, Cecil sets out for a better life as a young man.
Struggling outside of the confines of the plantation, an act of desperation introduces Cecil to a
much-needed father figure, who provides guidance and a job at a local hotel. Thriving under his
tutelage, Cecil is encouraged to move to Washington, DC, to take a position at an elite hotel.
Excelling there, Cecil is noticed by a White House administrator, who gives him the chance of a
lifetime: a job as a butler at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, insuring a comfortable middle-class life
for Cecil's wife Gloria (Oscar nominee Oprah Winfrey) and sons Louis (David Oyelowo) and
Charlie (Elijah Kelley), far from the cotton fields of the South.
While Presidents come and go, from Eisenhower through Reagan, Cecil and the rest of the butler
staff remain, serving in the background as firsthand but silent witnesses to history and the inner
workings of the Oval Office while the civil rights movement unfolds. Regardless of his personal
opinions, Cecil remains fiercely committed to his duties at the White House, but tensions grow at
home as his sons become affected by the social and political upheaval that characterized the
1960s and 70s. Louis chooses to attend college in the South so that he may become an active
part of the burgeoning civil rights movement, participating in department store sit-ins and
freedom rides - putting him in physical danger and widening his rift with Cecil. Charlie instead
elects to work for change from within, enlisting to fight for his country in Vietnam. Facing these
disruptions to her family, as well as Cecil's neglect as he tends to his First Family, Gloria turns to
alcohol and the embrace of a neighbor. As he grapples with his family's actions and his own
conscience, Cecil finds himself at the crossroads of previously unimaginable social change.
Through the eyes and emotions of the Gaines family, Daniels' film follows the changing tides of
American politics and race relations; from the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin
Luther King, to the Freedom Riders and Black Panther movements, to the war in Vietnam and
the Watergate scandal, Cecil experiences the effects of these events as both an insider and a
family man. Drawn into conflict with his headstrong sons, eager to forge their own paths in a
rapidly transforming world, Cecil's story is as universal as it is extraordinary, speaking to the way
each generation attempts to define the American Dream.