The Butler

2013-11-08 08:19
The Butler
What it's about:

The story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades.

The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man’s life and family.

What we thought:

This year seems to be the year for movies about racial oppression (12 years a slave, Long Walk To Freedom) and The Butler is quite a strong contender in the awards list, and surprisingly quite enjoyable for a movie with a theme as heavy as race discrimination and abuse.

Director Lee Daniels tiptoed a very fine line between losing focus and staying on point, which is hard to do with a plot that spans across several years, but somehow The Butler stays on focus – the civil rights movement stemming from the South’s cotton farms to the assassination of Martin Luther King to the election of the first African-American US President.

And although this is a deeply-rooted American movie, South Africans will also be able to relate due to our  racial past and the proposed global embargo on the old Apartheid government and President Reagan’s refusal to impose sanctions on South Africa also features in the movie.

The two most important elements that kept this movie from becoming obtuse were its two leads -  Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey – who managed the emotional scenes as well as the comedic ones equally well. Although Oprah doesn’t need the money (duh) she should seriously consider doing more movies since her talk show is done.

She plays an interesting character - a proud wife who puts high importance on family, but struggles with many flaws of her own – and is quite different from the TV Oprah the world knows.

Another surprise of the movie is its ability to be politically neutral (besides the whole civil rights part) in how they represented each president, with the exception of Kennedy (who is American royalty and hard to say anything negative about). You even got to feel sorry for Nixon.

Where it does fall flat is the casting of the butler’s son, played by David Oyelowo, through whose eyes we experience the civil rights movement up close. Most of the time you feel like giving him a slap and the makeup they use to make him look older through the years actually makes you want to laugh at him. Not a strong actor at all and he was actually overshadowed by Elijah Kelley, who plays his more comedic younger brother.

Not an exceptionally outstanding movie, with its fair share of slow parts, weird time skips and some silly aging makeup choices, but The Butler is strong in its message about rising above your circumstances, the inhumanity of discriminating against others based on skin colour and knowing when to stand for something that is right.

The Butler is a politically heavy story that turns out to be more enjoyable than anticipated, with two very strong leads at the fore.

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