The Butler (2013)

This sucker is Academy Award bait. Well, I think that's what they were thinking when they made it, but it didn't actually get a single nomination. It's the story of a butler who worked in the White House through many, many administrations. It's based on a true story, and it's almost true.

Let's speed through the setup. A child is born in the Jim Crow South where he learns to pick cotton. After a horrific event, he is brought into the house to be trained as a servant. Eventually, he learns what he needs to know, and he moves North. There, he learns even more, and serves better. All this is a setup for him being brought into the White House to serve presidents.

Forrest Whitaker plays the adult version of the main character. He plays a character who is required to be stoic most of the time. He refers to the two faces that butlers have to use - the one that is themselves, and the one that is for the people being served. That is exactly what we see in the parallel between his home life and his work life. Forrest always does a good job in whatever role he is in, and this happens to be a good role.

Oprah plays the alcoholic wife who pressures Forrest when he's at home to work less and pay more attention to her and the kids. When I watched the first few scenes with Oprah, I didn't think she was doing a particularly good job. As the movie went on, however, it was clear that she was developing the character in a very convincing way. I might have been looking at her performance in a skewed way, and it is entirely possible it was awesome from the start.

David Oyelowo plays the eldest son who gets caught up in the civil rights movement and then the black power movement. This is a main focus of the movie, really. And the fact that his second son, played by Elijah Kelley, goes off to be killed in Viet Nam only increases the stress of the situation. The fact that Forrest is there in the White House through all of these presidents, occasionally influencing policy in a subtle way, makes a parallel between what the two are doing for their race. Several presidents are skipped in the movie, but they spend a bit of time on Reagan, and they really alter the perception of what Reagan did with South Africa. It seems really needless. I wouldn't normally call something like this out, but it makes no sense.

Then, we skip ahead to Barack Obama being voted in as president. The odd thing is that Forrest's character so ardently avoids politics through the whole movie that there is no justification for his extreme support for Obama's campaign. The idea that he, a man that we have come to know and understand through the story of his life, is so shallow as to jump behind someone simply because of the color of his skin doesn't really seem to work with the rest of the movie. Again, I don't know why they did it this way.

Direction was great
Acting was great
Story was compelling
Cinematography was great



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