When films include the phrase “based on true events”, I know the film will not be entirely factual, this just seems like common sense. So it surprised me to see so many comments on IMDB criticizing The Butler for its ‘taking liberties’ with facts as they actually occurred.
People like to bitch. Noted.
I can’t say what Lee Daniels intended with this story but its net effect on me was simple. Now I know who Eugene Allen was as well as his 30+ year career working in the White House from the late 50’s to the late 80’s – an interesting slice in history to say the least. Eight presidents came and went at the White House but he persisted. He would live to see the US elect its first black president before passing on in 2010. Most would say he had a good life, despite some facing some serious challenges along the way.
The story is fascinating. The production and direction are mostly good. I liked style of interleaved footage from actual events in the 50’s – 80’s with re-enacted footage from the cast meant to simulate the same events. While the events themselves were dramatic for the effect they had on the nation during that era, they seemed to be overplayed to the point of occasionally derailing the story of Allen.
The pace was solid most of way through, however some later scenes mumbled on too long before making their point and connecting the historical signposts in a cohesive narrative.
The acting is mostly great. Forrest Whitaker gives a brilliant performance capturing the understated humility of a man whose day-to-day included spending time with those shaping the future of the United States. While Whitaker’s performance was not as emotionally moving as his role in Crying Game, I was surprised he did not get nominated for an award. I always like Oprah Winfrey’s performances, however I did not like her in this film. Her acting was affected and it felt as through her character was stealing the spotlight too often from the focus of the storyline. I would say she was miscast. Of the dozen of cameos, Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, Liev Schreiber as LBJ and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan were my favorites; all had their character’s mannerisms down cold.
Even though The Butler has some flaws and takes serious liberties with actual history, its still a good watch for Whitaker fans and the zoom in on Allen’s career in the White House. While its too difficult to say whether Allen’s time with 8 presidents had any shape on the course of history, who can say definitively that it didn’t.