REVIEW: The Butler (M)
Directed by Lee Daniels
The Butler is marketed as being based on a true story, when what it lays out bears only a passing resemblance to the life of the man who it claims as its inspiration.
Even so, The Butler succeeds; if not as an accurate portrayal of one man's life, then at least as an impassioned and necessary portrait of an entire era in recent American history.
Yes, there was a man, by the name of Eugene Allen, who worked at the White House from 1952 until 1986. And he died in 2010, having lived to see Barack Obama become President.
But as far as I can find out, he was not the grandson of slaves. Neither did he see his father murdered in a cotton field. And he did not have two sons, one of whom fought in Vietnam and the other who ascended through the ranks of The Black Panther movement, before renouncing violence and becoming a congressman.
Put like that, perhaps you can see why some of the critics of this film have written it off as 'the black Forrest Gump'.
Well, sucks to them. The Butler, for all its invention, is still a truer, more heartfelt, and altogether more affecting film than that trite confection Gump ever even aspired to be.
The characters may be a fiction, but as played by Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo (Jack Reacher) they ring true, while the historical events that these lives are set against - especially the struggle to enrol black voters in the Southern states - are deftly portrayed, and made more immediate than I have seen on a movie screen since Mississippi Burning.
The Butler is an ambitious film, with swathes of history to cut through, which it does well enough. But more than that, this is a film about a marriage, and the everyday bravery of raising a family.
Maybe you'll be tempted to see The Butler for the star power of Winfrey and Whitaker, and fair enough; there will be award nominations for both of them, I expect. But what will stay with you will be this film's heart and honest intentions. It's a good story, well told, and very easy to recommend.
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