MOVIE REVIEW: Civil rights fight central to ‘The Butler’

This film image released by The Weinstein Company shows Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, left, and Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines in a scene from "Lee Daniels' The Butler." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Anne Marie Fox)

This film image released by The Weinstein Company shows Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, left, and Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines in a scene from “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Anne Marie Fox)

By M. Scott Morris
Daily Journal

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is a film with powerful and affecting moments.

It’s a personal story about a black man who serves numerous presidents as a White House butler.

It’s also the story of the triumphs and tragedies of the civil rights movement.

Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) escapes the cotton fields of his youth to become a “house boy.” Thus begins his training as a domestic servant that eventually leads to the White House.

He’s happy to be out of the South with a good job, even if it’s his responsibility to make sure any room seems empty when he’s in it.
Cecil’s son, Louis (David Oyelowo), doesn’t see eye-to-eye with his dad. Louis believes sacrifices should be made, so he becomes a Freedom Rider and repeatedly puts himself in harm’s way.

The movie switches from the Oval Office and the White House kitchen to a lunch counter in Nashville and the streets of Birmingham. It also takes viewers into Cecil’s home, where his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) keeps order when she’s not too drunk.

A lot of elements are in play in “The Butler,” and director Lee Daniels keeps things on track for the most part, but there are moments of overload. In addition, large swaths of time can be covered during a transition from one scene to the next, and that’s occasionally disorienting.

It’s understandable, but neither Whitaker or Winfrey look right for their parts until the characters reach their 40s or 50s. But from there, the pair’s story gets stronger as the movie goes on.

As Cecil’s co-workers, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz illustrate a sense of camaraderie among the White House staff. They share plenty of surreal moments, as when Richard Nixon (John Cusack) drops by one night to campaign.
Cusack makes a surprisingly good Nixon, but Robin Williams’s turn as President Eisenhower feels like stunt casting. Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda should have their own movie as Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan.

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” was inspired by the life of Eugene Allen, who served as a White House butler for 34 years.

His real life and Cecil’s fictional life diverge at several key spots. For instance, Allen didn’t have a Freedom Rider for a son.

But there’s truth to be found in this story of one man’s life and one country’s turmoil.

I give “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” a B.

It’s showing at Malcos in Tupelo, Oxford, Corinth and Columbus, as well as Hollywood Premier Cinemas in Starkville and Movie Reel 4 in New Albany.

Look for movie reviews in Scene on Thursdays, and listen each Tuesday morning on Wizard 106.7 between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m.

Kelli Karlson Wizard 106.7
She gives “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” a B plus.

‘It’s not something I will own, but it was fun trying to figure out who was playing what role.’

Roadkill Bill Wizard 106.7
He gives “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” a B.
‘Certain historical aspects of the film were very difficult to watch.’