"I'm Cecil Gaines. I'm the new butler.” Which is what this unlikely movie called The Butler brings to the screen. This American historical fiction drama film directed by Lee Daniels, written by Danny Strong. The film tells the life of Cecil Gaines, an African-American who eye witnessed notable events of the 20th century including the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, and other major events that affected this man's life, family, and American society. And served eight presidents during his 34-year tenure serving as a White House butler.
The film is loosely inspired by the real-life figure, Eugene Allen (July 14, 1919 – March 31, 2010) who worked for the White House for 34 years until he retired as the head butler in 1986. Allen was born in Scottsville, Virginia, and died at the Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Montgomery County, Maryland; his death was caused by renal failure. He started in the White House in 1952 as a "pantry man" and over the years rose in his position until finally attaining the most prestigious rank of butlers serving in the White House, Maître d'hôtel. Allen had been married to his wife, Helene, for 65 years. Helene died on Nov 3, 2008. The couple had one son, Charles Allen.
The film features an ensemble cast; Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, loosely based on the real-life figure, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Clarence Williams III, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lenny Kravitz. Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, the 35th President, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th President, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, the 37th President, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, and Jane Fonda as First Lady Nancy Reagan. The cast in this film all gave their best performances in their careers. Whitaker gave his best performance of his career since his Oscar-winning role of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland (2006). His reflective, powerfully understated performance fills this flawed film with potency and purpose. Winfrey gave her best performance since her role in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple (1985). Redgrave gave her finest performance playing Gaines' cotton farm owner who is genuinely the first character in the film who shows Gaines kindness, unlike Pettyfer's character who showed nothing but hatred and violence. Williams gave a fine performance since Ridley Scott's American Gangster (2007). Gooding, Jr. gave his finest performance since Jerry Maguire (1996). Williams gave his best dramatic role since Christopher Nolan's Insomnia (2002), and One Hour Photo (2002). Lastly, Marsden gave the best performance of his career and was convincing as the 35th president of the United States.
Daniels and company have performed a powerful service with The Butler: they have brought Eugene Allen’s life and story to the big screen, both as man and legend. An ambitious, tough, seriously considered biographical film that, with honor, eludes easy characterization. The perfect combination of epic and personal, intimate and spectacular.
Simon says The Butler receives: