Lee Daniels’ The Butler  (2013)    68/100

Rating :   68/100                                                                     132 Min        12A

The true story of Eugene Allen – or at least it should have been. This is a heavily fictionalised account of Allen’s life, so much so they changed the central character’s name to Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker). I won’t list the principal story elements which were invented for the film as it will to no small degree ruin it, but their inclusion is ameliorated by the material at least arguably being representative of real experiences for African Americans at that time. In any eventuality, Allen served several of the American presidents, from Eisenhower in the 50’s right up to Reagan in the 80’s, as one of the White House’s butlers (Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz play two of the others). With his occupation as an anchor for the story, what unfolds is an uncompromising reflection on the Civil Rights Movement in America, as we see the murderous brutality Gaines witnesses in the deep south as a child and the struggle his own son (played by David Oyelowo) goes through when he becomes an activist in the movement, mirrored with his unique employment and the very real effect he and his co-workers most certainly will have had on influencing the perspective, thoughts, and decisions of the presidents themselves.

It’s the latest film from talented director Lee Daniels, after last year’s ‘The Paperboy’, and it’s interesting that even the very difficult and harrowing brutality of racism, is still seemingly more palatable to audiences than the, ahem, touchy area of onscreen masturbation that was evident in that film (which I liked incidentally {the film that is, not John Cusack masturbating}), although some of the less effective after effects used there to make the film seem a little dated do also crop up here, giving early periods of the film a decidedly pallid feel to them. His latest movie is an emotive, strong piece that is well acted by its principal cast and its equally strong, and extensive, supporting cast members. I won’t spoil the long list of big name actors who appear as the various presidents throughout the film, although one was particularly surprising as he’s British, and another has played a president before … If so much of the screenplay hadn’t been mere invention, and if it wasn’t still being billed as a biography, then this would be a fantastic film – as it is, it’s still pretty good.

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