Lee Daniels' The Butler Movie Review
Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a piece of work: combining an impressive cast with a sprawling story about the Civil Rights movement, the movie is an epic waste of talent, and a huge test of your patience. Featuring surface-level storytelling and a lead character so boring that the only thing he manages to do is be a dick to his son for several decades, The Butler is what happens when a director convinces himself he is better than he actually is.
Starring Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, along with cameo appearances by Robin Williams (Dwight D. Eisenhower, really?), James Marsden (John F. Kennedy, wha??) and John Cusack (Richard Nixon, are you fucking kidding me???), The Butler is also the epitome of poor casting.
Let me repeat that: John Cusack as Richard Nixon.
The Butler is one of those movies you want to like – the film spans several decades with Whitaker in various forms of questionable makeup (I swear he and Winfrey actually get younger as the movie progresses) – but that just fails to offer a valid reason to do so. Its commentary on race is superficial at best, and the dismal casting (John Cusack as Richard Nixon, remember) is one of many reasons that suggests The Butler would have been better off as a TV movie.
The movie views the evolution of black rights from one of the least interesting vantage points: a butler in the White House who refuses to get involved in the movement, at least until the hard part is over. Daniels attempts to make up for this by putting the butler’s son on the frontlines; somehow, this kid (Oyelowo) conveniently manages to be involved in every major historical event Daniels covers. It’s laughably bad storytelling, but without the entertainment value.
Character development and other issues aside, the biggest problem with Lee Daniels’ The Butler is that the movie is simply boring. At just over two hours long, the movie feels twice that, and it only gets duller as time progresses. Whitaker’s character is bland and not even very likable, and after I will I just didn’t care about him or his relationship with his son.
At least Oprah Winfrey delivers a good performance.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a waste of talent, and more importantly time. And let me say it one more time: John Cusack as Richard Nixon.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.