The Butler | Chicago Reader

The Butler

Rated PG-13 132 minutes 2013

Lee Daniels's most commercial film to date is loosely based on the experience of Eugene Allen (1919-2010), a poor African-American who worked his way up the ladder to become head butler at the White House. It's structured like a conventional Hollywood biopic, though Daniels consistently defamiliarizes the form with weird, crass, and nakedly sincere moments, sometimes deploying all three within the same scene. The tone swerves from horrific (the depictions of lynchings and other racially motivated violence) to sentimental (the relationship between the apolitical title character and his activist son) to broadly comic (the burlesque characterizations of Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Nancy Reagan), which feels oddly appropriate for a film about someone constantly struggling to assimilate into an unstable political environment. The movie's a mess, but a unique and provocative one. The all-star cast includes Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., and John Cusack as Nixon.

Film Credits

Official Site:

Director: Lee Daniels

Producer: Pamela Oas Williams, Laura Ziskin, Lee Daniels, Buddy Patrick, Cassian Elwes, Michael Finley, Sheila Johnson, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Len Blavatnik, Aviv Giladi, Vince Holden, Hilary Shor, Adam Merims, James Bruce IV, R. Wright, Liz Destro and Jordan Kessler

Cast: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Robin Williams, Clarence Williams III, Mariah Carey, Nelsan Ellis, Yaya Alafia, Colman Domingo, Minka Kelly, Elijah Kelley, Alex Pettyfer and Jesse Williams

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