Title: The Butler
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director: Lee Daniels
Music: Rodrigo Leão
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn
Cuba Gooding Jr.
Clarence Williams III
Michael Rainey Jr.
Lee Daniels’ enterprising biographic saga of Cecil Gaines (Whitaker), a black White House butler who serves eight presidents (based on a true story), was a substantial Box Office triumph back in October, and the talking point converges on its all-star cast, in particular the varying presidents and historic personages’ impersonation and an Oscar-baiting role for Oprah Winfrey’s big screen return, 15 years after BELOVED (1998).
I’m not a naysayer of Daniel’s sordid THE PAPERBOY (2012), but his trademark sepia-tone does precipitates the visual fatigue in spite of its retrospective homage, and the sketchy account of different presidents comes shortchanged as trite and uninspiring. The mainstay, nevertheless, is unbendingly unraveled around Cecil’s dissidence against his radical son Louis (Oyelowo), underpinned by a very Oprah-esque slap during an inopportune family dinner, until the belated conciliation. Cecil’s reserved discretion stems from his childhood trauma in the southern cotton field, but fortuitously he is discovered by an obnoxious officer to work in the White House (this part is schematized hastily and deficient of rationality, it must be more rigid procedures to be recruited as a staff there).
So infused with the prerogative of serving the most powerful men in the country and a decent lifestyle, Cecil involuntarily leans on a more conservative slant of the equity movement for black folks, since most presidents he serves hold a strong attitude to change the status quo, he cannot understand why his son cannot be a bit patient but it is another lay of the land out of his comfy home; Louis is a foolhardy fighter, but he has a perspicuous mind, chooses to leave before he is immersed too deep into the Black Panther fanatic. It is not that all these happenings aren’t inviting, but in the film, Daniels only skims on the surfaces of the phenomenon, it is certainly a too wide time span and too many ramifications for one film to entail both comprehensively and attentively.
Whitaker is brilliant and the MVP here, an ideal husband, a conscientious butler and an apolitical observer, underplays his character with subtle nuances, his two different facades, although the script dare not give him too much to handle just as life should be, his presence is a spectacle to watch. Oyelowo, a rising star deserves more leading roles, is another praiseworthy member from the bulky cast, while Winfrey’s part, is no Monique in PRECIOUS (2009), a pedestrian housewife with alcohol problem scarcely has anything new to offer. What are the remainders after the transient merry-go-around of star-popping? I guess for me it is John Cusack’s fake nose and Cuba Gooding Jr.’s smug-face, and the film itself is an underachieved FORREST GUMP (1994) wannabe.