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Movie review: The Butler is a performance-packed film

Lee Daniels' The Butler is an American historical fiction drama. Starring Forest Whitaker and TV's favourite Oprah Winfrey, the film has impressed most critics. The Butler releases in Indian theatres this Friday.

hollywood Updated: Oct 23, 2013 15:39 IST
Durga M Sengupta
Durga M Sengupta
Lee Daniels' The Butler,The Butler,Forest Whitaker

Lee Daniels' The Butler is an American historical fiction drama. Starring Forest Whitaker and TV's favourite Oprah Winfrey, the film has impressed most critics. The film also did phenomenally well at the US box office.

Most critics (even the ones who didn't love the film) have acknowledged the power-packed performances delivered by Whitaker and Winfrey.

"Winfrey is good, though, demonstrating yet again that she’s an actress and not just a celebrity playing an actress," compliments Peter Rainer in CS Monitor.

"Although Whitaker gives a sturdy, commendable performance, his character is made to bear too much symbolic weight," he adds.

James Berardinelli nods along. "The main cast, in contrast to the presidential roster, is strong, with fine performances emerging from roles large and small. Forest Whitaker imbues his part with immense dignity and the old-age makeup is effective showcasing Cecil during his later years. David Oyelowo gives a powerful portrayal of the firebrand Louis - one can feel the character's anger at the world in general and his frustration with his father's passivity. A supporting actor nomination isn't out of the question. Oprah Winfrey does good things with an underwritten role and limited screen time. She hasn't been this effective since her debut in 1985's The Color Purple (although, to be fair, she hasn't taken many acting jobs since then)," he writes in

Lisa Kennedy probes into why these actors stand out in the film -- it's the character sketches. "Daniels works deeply with actors. The performances are sharply nuanced. Winfrey's turn is carnal and wise; Gloria is a mix of love, frustration, and need. David Oyelowo is responsible for the greatest arc as Cecil and Gloria's son Louis. Elijah Kelley provides sweetly fresh moments as younger son, Charlie," she notes in Denver Post.

"In another era, The Butler could have been a mini-series, the mixed-genre child of Roots and Upstairs, Downstairs," she adds in hindsight.

A.O.Scott furthur investigates into the ploy adopted by Daniels' to create The Butler.

"Taking inspiration from an article by Wil Haygood in The Washington Post about the life of Eugene Allen, who worked as a butler in the White House during eight presidential administrations, Mr. Daniels has told the story of the civil rights movement in the bold colors of costume pageantry and the muted tones of domestic drama. He also throws in a few bright splashes of crazy, over-the-top theatricality, in the form of outrageous period-appropriate outfits and startling celebrity cameos, as well as dabs of raucous comedy," writes Scott in NY Times.

Sounds quite commendable.

But John Anderson seems a bit disappointed. "The prankishness of Lee Daniels’ The Butler — so named after a title dispute with the MPAA — undermines the serious statements this star-spangled film is striving to make about race, class and politics. Along with missing the movie’s ever-migrating point, viewers may be forgiven for wondering whether Lee Daniels’ The Butler might have been titled Lee Daniels’ Forrest Gump — its hero challenged morally rather than mentally, but watching history in Gumpian fashion, as a series of cameos viewed through a slightly clueless daze," Anderson laments in The Washington Post.


Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a respectable score of 73% on the tomatometer with the comment, "Gut-wrenching and emotionally affecting, Lee Daniels' The Butler overcomes an uneven narrative thanks to strong performances from an all-star cast."

Seems like it's worth a watch.

First Published: Oct 23, 2013 15:31 IST