Although it’s been out for several weeks, Lee Daniels’s “The Butler” (PG-13) continues to perform at the box-office. In the film, Forest Whitaker stars as a plantation orphan who works his way up to being a butler at the White House. Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Oyelowo and Lenny Kravitz costar in the film. Lee Daines directs.
Andy: “The Butler” is a very ambitious piece of historical fiction that, unfortunately, falls well short of its ambition. First of all, it begins with the obligatory, “Inspired by a true story,” which means it’s fiction that happens to be based on a real guy. This becomes clear almost immediately in how the historical events play out in neat little segments that the main characters always happen to be present for, as well as the superficial way the film handles many of the historical (and personal) events the film depicts.
Ryan: There’s no question that “The Butler” has that Forest Gump vibe where seemingly ordinary people fall upon historical moments around extraordinary people. The film’s narrative follows that same template. But as Andy alludes too, “The Butler” falls short in being the great film it aspires to be. It’s seemingly entertaining on a superficial level and that’s the best compliment I can give it.
Andy: The biggest shortcoming of “The Butler” is that it presents so much of the action in a way that seems like it was made for a movie. When a film chooses to delve into a complex and violent event such as the civil rights movement, there is a responsibility to create that reality in a way that takes the viewer to that time and place. “The Butler” tries to make it personal by placing one of the characters at many of the most relevant events of the civil rights movement. The device backfires, as it ends up feeling contrived, which serves to minimize these important historical developments.