Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lee Daniel's THE BUTLER (B-)

Bottom Line: Serving up a well-intentioned, occasionally moving and yet dramatically off-balanced look at one of the most tumultuous times in American history, Lee Daniel’s THE BUTLER is a classic cinematic example of performance over substance.  There are no less than a dozen actors here (with varying degrees of screen time) that knock their respective roles out of the park – with a subdued Whitaker and feisty Winfrey leading the pack (Oprah has room on her mantle for another award, right?!  Oscars don’t take up that much space).  There are two main stories at work here and, unfortunately, they strain to work well together much of the time.  There’s emotion at play, a sense of intimacy, even a dash of charm and wit – but every now and then it feels flat, underdeveloped, rushed, a little broad, too politically heavy-handed, or it blatantly wallows in a sort of short-sighted, Forrest Gumpian melodrama that’s hard to buy in to…  But let’s get back to the acting – did I mention the acting?!  It’s the A-list cast’s elevation of a semi-remarkable story that makes this movie recommendable.  While Academy Award settings are surely in place for Whitaker and Winfrey, the movie itself will be relegated to the kids table when the Oscar nods are handed out.
Starring: Forrest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrence Howard, David Oyelowo, Lenny Kravitz, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, James Marsden, Live Schreiber and Robin Williams
Directed by: Lee Daniels (PRECIOUS and THE PAPERBOY)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 126 minutes
Story: The story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man's life and family. (c) Weinstein

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