Ryan: I will also say that “The Butler” is an earnest film. It has its heart in the right place and it tries to be a relevant and important film. Tackling almost a hundred years of civil rights and the subsequent movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s is a grand ambition — almost too grand — as it becomes impossible to fully process all the events the film touches on. As a dramatic endeavor the movie does have its moments, but the sum of the parts do not make a great film.
Andy: “The Butler” seems like the type of movie that would boast several high-caliber performances. Forrest Whitaker is one of Hollywood’s best, and Oprah is a former Oscar nominee. Both are good in this film, but neither gives the type of transcendent performance needed to compensate for some of the other shortcomings. There are moments that are truly inspiring, but the movie ends up being too heavy handed to take as seriously as it should be taken.
Ryan: Part of that heavy-handedness comes from the fact that the characters simply exist as symbols and not real characters. There’s some character development but most of that falls flat or feels contrived. Again, there’s no question the “true story” that propels the film is fascinating, but I don’t think it’s best served by embellishing the narrative to a point where something this remarkable could only happen in a movie.
“The Butler” arrived with good intentions but ultimately falls short. Final grade: C.