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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Lee Daniels’ The Butler | Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oleyowo, Robin Williams, James Narsden, Liev Schreiber, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave | Review

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4 Chicks SmallJacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for Lasvegasroundtheclock.com
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Lee Daniels’ The Butler | Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oleyowo, Robin Williams, James Narsden, Liev Schreiber, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave | Review

“The times, they are a-changin’” sang Bob Dylan prophetically in 1964.  By that time, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) was already several administrations into his service at the White House, slipping quietly into rooms with tea trays and white gloves and no opinions about politics. Ever.

Coming from the cotton fields of a Virginia plantation where he witnessed his mother’s (Mariah Carey) abuse and his father’s (David Banner) murder, young Cecil (Aml Ameen) finds a mentor in Maynard (Clarence Williams) who prepares him for work in an upscale Washington D.C. hotel; his excellent service gets him noticed and recruited to work in the White House, where minorities make 40% less than their white counterparts.

Gaines’ wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) is a no-nonsense, tough-love, hard drinking woman raising the couple’s two sons Louis (David Oleyowo) and Charlie (Elijah Kelley).  Father and son clash when their paths diverge in extreme ways.  Louis becomes a Freedom Rider and a Black Panther while Cecil continues to serve at the White House with a bow and averted gaze.

From Eisenhower to Reagan, Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a fascinating chronicle inspired by the experiences of real life White House Maître d'hôtel, Eugene Allen (who served the Truman administration as well).  Viewers will be privy to presidential idiosyncrasies like LBJ’s meetings while using the sit-down function of a toilet, as well as the crushing oppression that African-Americans faced through most of the 20th century.

This is Forest Whitaker’s film, and the actor portrays Gaines with quiet dignity and often, a profound sadness that eventually evolves into a determination to be heard and acknowledged beyond the “hear and obey” requirements of his job.

Oprah Winfrey creates a complex, believable Gloria, full of conflict, devotion, and sometimes betrayal.  David Oleyowo embodies the rage of a younger generation fed up with injustice and institutionalized discrimination.

Presidential casting is, shall we say, creative, with Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan.

Strong supporting performances by Jane Fonda, Terrence Howard, Vanessa Redgrave, Cuba Gooding, Jr. Lenny Kravitz, Minka Kelly and Alex Pettyfer impart a range of formidable portrayals, based on history but grounded in human nature with its many flaws and occasional triumphs.

Academy Award nominated director Lee Daniels (Precious) co-wrote the script with Emmy-award winning Danny Strong (Game Change), and the two bring the darkness of the past, with its racism, civil rights struggles, and blind hatred into the light with archival footage juxtaposed with Gaines’ experiences and those of his activist son. How the two polar opposites endeavor to find common ground is a thread that runs through nearly the length of the film.
 
It’s a powerful, though truncated history lesson, illustrating how far we’ve come as a nation and that the journey most certainly continues.  

Footnote: Eugene Allen (1919-2010) lived long enough to see the first African-American president sworn into office and was invited to the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama.

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