I went to go see The Butler last Saturday. The trailer had all of the flags associated with movies that could be running contenders for awards: a good cast, familial tension, and historical civil rights conflict; plus Alan Rickman is in it. With all of these factors I figured it was a good pick.
A quick synopsis:
Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) grew up on a cotton farm during the 1920s. After his father was shot by the farmer for whom they worked, Cecil was taken inside the household and trained to be a house servant. As he moved from hotel to hotel, he eventually ended up with a job at the White House. There he served under the terms of Eisenhower up through Ronald Reagan. In the meantime, on the home front, Cecil was married to Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) with two boys Louis (David Oyelowo) and Charlie (Elijah Kelley). Louis, disturbed by the treatment of African Americans, decides to fight back by joining different civil rights activist groups. However Cecil, having always been a diligent house servant, is against Louis’ decisions, creating conflict within the family
As far as the movie goes, it was a good movie. The acting was good, but nothing particularly memorable or spectacular. Alan Rickman made a noble effort to sound American, but he didn’t quite sound the part, even though he did make a fantastic Reagan look alike. The movie did have its fair share of humor in addition to the drama, particularly in Charlie’s character. However, all in all, the movie isn’t something I can probably watch again a second time with the same interest and involvement.
The movie’s greatest driving force for the most part was the emotional tension involving the family’s internal conflict, particularly the relationship between Cecil and Louis. The movie’s primary conflict was how each generation, father and son, dealt with the African American civil rights movement. Cecil took a more traditional approach, earning respect through obedience, while believing that those in power would eventually bring about the change necessary. Louis, however, took on a more active approach, engaging in protests, joining the Blank Panthers, and then actively participating in politics.
The theme of how different generations cope with the same problem is not a novel one. It has been a driving conflict in many movies in the past and will continue to be seen in future movies. Thus, because of this, the Butler is not an original concept, but it takes place in a unique historical context that adds a bit more flavor to the struggle; it is this context that gives all of the subplots regarding the Vietnam War, Kennedy’s assassination, among other things, which helped to make the movie less flat. However, it is also because of this lack of originality that makes the movie a one time experience.
In any case, I did enjoy watching it and do recommend it to others. Maybe just wait till it comes out on DVD or Blu-Ray first.