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The Butler – worth the watch

Paul Peterson

Paul Peterson

Quality, like water, will always find its own level. The Butler opened to a huge American audience and at first glance seemed to be an American phenomena, however it’s such a good film it crossed over.

Starring Forest Whitaker, who won an Academy Award for The Last King of Scotland, (and deserved it hands down), The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines, a quiet, underwhelming man who served  eight presidents as their butler.

Really, it’s the tale of coming of age as a nation in Black America. And of one man’s struggle with life, career and his family. It’s a really simple story told exceptionally well. It reminded me of What The Deaf Man Heard, an American Showcase film, that won several awards.

Whitaker commands attention and owns the screen even when he’s playing an almost invisible character. There is plenty of Oscar buzz around this and while I think it’s too early in the season to carry that, it’s a compelling performance. This guy is interesting in everything he’s in. For a big guy, he’s plays small really well. There are also fair comparisons to Driving Miss Daisy, another Oscar winning film.

Director Lee Daniels, who helmed Precious, is a really interesting guy. Abused as a youth by his brutal policeman dad, for being gay, he still managed to graduate from college with honors and moved to LA where he worked for a nursing agency, eventually opening his own and selling it for a small fortune.  He then started managing talent, and made life-long friendships with Mariah Carey and Mo’Nique, who routinely appear in his films to good purpose.
Precious was his way of writing through his personal abuse, and as a result it won every award conceivable that year.
His casting is usually curious, and while I admire some of the choices here, most notably Clarence Williams lll, I think putting Oprah in the role of Cecil  Gaine’s wife Gloria, was wrong.
She’s too big a force, too well known, and too much Oprah to disappear into a role.
It’s an interesting character. She struggles with drug addiction and the demands of family, the times, and trying to blend in, given the parameters of her husband’s job. I’m sure there were a lot of other actresses who could have brought the same depth without being a distraction.
I have read favorable reviews and that’s fine, I just don’t like her anyway so for me it’s trying to push on.

There were a few other eyebrow raisers. Jane Fonda was miscast. Mariah Carey as well although she seems to be getting better at disappearing into characters.
All in all, the Butler is a good watch. Act locally, think globally.
We get to see news as its happening, as it happens and as it affects one man and his world.
Strongly recommended, even if you’re not a fan of American politics. I am and I thought it was great.
As always, other opinions are welcome, but wrong. That’s it for this week. The cheque’s in the mail and I’m outta here. Paul

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElsePaul Peterson

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