Saturday, August 17, 2013

Full Service (Movie Review: Lee Daniels' The Butler)

I can't remember a movie a single movie this summer that resonated with me. But that changed today after seeing "The Butler."  I left the theater weeping - this is a film that touched me, it seeped into my inner core, and as I walked away from the movie house, I felt like I was leaving a piece of me there.  It tells the story of the civil rights movement through the eyes of a White House butler, played with quiet ferocious intensity by Forest Whitaker. He is majestic here, a tragic character who found strength, and grew and evolved in every frame of the movie. The performance is striking in its simplicity - you don't even realize the change in his characterization until you're in the middle of watching it. In the end, as you see him last evolution, and realization, you get a sense of history in his character, from the Truman presidency to the history-making Obama win of 2008. Oprah Winfrey, playing his alcoholic wife, Gloria, supports him mighty fine, and I was surprised how she very quickly became the character that you stop thinking " Hey that's Oprah playing Gloria." Daniels is an actor's director, of course, though at times he needs to rein his actors just a little bit. But, that's what I like about his movies - here,  the over-the-top is great balance to the serious tones. I dont; want to give the impression that the movie is perfect, though. As I mentioned, some of it could be a bit too much, and the stunt castings can be a distraction. I mean, did we really need to have Mariah Carey do a two scene inconsequential role ? (It's a pivotal role, sure, but still inconsequential) While the star performances are greatly cast (Alan Rickman does a superb Reagan and James Marsden a touching JFK) they shine a little too brightly for this kind of movie. Also, the movie screams "For Your Consideration," which I can give or take, depending on my mood. But still, I think it's a great movie, a visual delight, a civics lesson peppered with great performances. Watch, learn, get entertained.

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