Tuesday 26 November 2013

The Butler

With the 50th anniversary of JFK's death having passed last Friday, you don't have to look far to see a documentary or film referencing the day, the man, or American politics in general. Last night, I saw one of these movies - Lee Daniels' The Butler.

Cecil Gaines was born on a cotton plantation, but after witnessing his father's murder and his mother endlessly being abused, he decides to take his knowledge and skills and move north to better his career and his future. Through hard work and determination, Cecil soon holds the best job a black man in service can hope to achieve - working as a butler at the White House.

Everyone is thrilled for Cecil, except for his son Louis, who at 18 has better ideas of what it means to be a successful man of colour. Leaving for college Louis joins the Freedom group, putting his life at risk daily in the name of civil rights. In the years that follow presidents and bills of rights pass, but as the world becomes a more dangerous place for Louis, Cecil works for the same reason - to keep his family safe.

Everyone in The Butler was exceptional, which is a lot to ask from a cast list of this many stars; Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, Vanessa Redgrave, Alex Pettyfer, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lenny Kravitz, Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman and last but definitely not least, Jane Fonda. It was like an award ceremony! These stars portrayed the previously unknown characters just as well as the famous faces, with a special mention to the American presidents.

And talking about faces, finally we have a movie with good quality prosthetics! How many times have you had a film completely spoilt by a bad attempt at ageing a character? The Butler spanned from 1927 to 2008, so had a lot to cover, but the make up was so good, it was hard to tell when an actor was playing their real age, younger, or older. Not only that but the presidents really did look like the presidents - and they showed off too with many a close up. Forest Whitaker breaks your heart whenever he’s on screen, and Oprah Winfrey is absolutely mesmerizing. It’s not only the big stars that steal the show though; I thought the Gaines sons, David Oyelowo and Elijah Kelley were incredibly talented.

Just like Philomena last weekend, this film is based on a real life and real events - Eugene Allen (the real life Cecil Gaines) worked at the White House for 34 years, serving seven presidents. However, there are quite a few discrepancies which, having researched after seeing the film, has left me feeling a bit disappointed; the main one being that Eugene Allen only had one son, not two. Still, I’m going to do my best to put that aside and focus on the film as an independent piece of cinema.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see The Butler up for best EVERYTHING at the ceremonies. The whole team of movie makers and actors came together to create something truly special. Go see.

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