Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer
The Farewell To Middle-earth Issue
Review Of The Year 2014
Subscribe: Get 12 Issues For £25
Buy the perfect Christmas present this year
Farewell To Middle-earth
Full details of our Peter Jackson-edited issue
Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
TBC
Cast
Alan Rickman
David Oyelowo
Jane Fonda
Oprah Winfrey
Mariah Carey
John Cusack.
Directors
Screenwriters
Running Time
132 minutes

LATEST FILM REVIEWS
Annie
2 Star Empire Rating
Theory Of Everything, The
4 Star Empire Rating
Bringing Tibet Home
3 Star Empire Rating
Kon-Tiki
4 Star Empire Rating
Enemy
4 Star Empire Rating



5 STAR REVIEWS
Leviathan
5 Star Empire Rating
Le Jour Se Lève
5 Star Empire Rating
Tony Benn: Will And Testament
5 Star Empire Rating
Nightcrawler
5 Star Empire Rating
Babadook, The
5 Star Empire Rating

The Butler
White House Downton


submit to reddit


Plot
Three turbulent decades of American history, from the 1950s to the 1980s, are seen from the perspective of long-serving White House butler Cecil Gaines (Whitaker).


Review
The Butler

While this is literally two-plus hours of what-the-butler- saw, Lee Daniels’ follow-up to the divisive The Paperboy is far from antiquated end-of-the-pier smut. Instead, it’s an earnest attempt to humanise the tumultuous events of the post-War era by viewing them through the eyes of White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), who served eight administrations, from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan, and bore witness to some of the most momentous political machinations of the 20th century. It’s hardly an original narrative device but it has dramatic potential, providing both fly-on-the-wall access to the corridors of power and an intimate view of the impact policy-making has on ordinary people’s lives.

Not that Gaines, a fictional character loosely based on real-life White House butler Eugene Allen, is an ordinary person. In fact, in his role as surrogate for the entire black American experience, he’s forced to take every nuance of socio-political upheaval on the chin. And it’s here the film gets bogged down. There’s no doubting Daniels’ and screenwriter Danny Strong’s sincerity, but they do lay it on with a trowel. Take, for instance, a scene where the young Gaines witnesses a redneck farmer rape his mother and then shoot his father in the head. It’s all a bit much. And although the film’s message is entirely principled, it smacks of self-importance and comes with a veneer of sentimentality that is unlikely to sit well with audiences outside the US.

On the plus side, Forest Whitaker delivers another superb performance as Gaines, investing him with a quiet dignity that counterbalances the film’s tendency to soapy melodrama. The supporting cast, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. Oprah Winfrey is terrific as Gaines’ wife Gloria, as is Liev Schreiber as Lyndon Johnson. John Cusack makes a game stab at Nixon, but Robin Williams as Eisenhower and Alan Rickman as Reagan fall squarely into the WTF? category. On balance, then, more worthy than an Edwardian strumpet cavorting in a hip bath. But not quite as much fun.


Verdict
Manipulative and preachy, The Butler is redeemed by a sensitive performance from Forest Whitaker and the undeniable power of the events it depicts.


Reviewed by Simon Braund

Write Your Review
To write your review please login or register.

Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Butler
Empire Star Rating

Whitaker and WInfrey the Winners.

They make this film. Great performances. http://straighttelling.co.uk ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TroyPutland at 19:08, 10 December 2014 | Report This Post


RE: quite liked it.

As the beating heart of this story about "a crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice", Whitaker is back on form. ... More

Posted by chang at 09:29, 31 December 2013 | Report This Post


quite liked it.

Enjoyed the ensemble. Particularly Coleman Domingo (who was over here recently for his show and was brilliant! so it was great to see him on the big screen). And True Blood's Laffeyette (sp?) as Dr. King. Bit of let down to here that it's all made up (although, as I was watching it i did think 'wow, what a coincidence that all this occurred.' ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 23:56, 18 December 2013 | Report This Post


RE: The Butler

Out of this current series of pre-Oscar contenders which start with “based/inspired by a true story, Lee Daniels’ latest is the one that truly screams “for your consideration” with a checklist that includes American history, racism, an all-star cast and even a trailer that plays out the sentimentality. After an array of bleak dramas such as Precious and The Paperboy, Daniels goes soft to please the mass audience. During the course of three decades as a butler for the White House, Cecil Gai... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 00:15, 06 December 2013 | Report This Post


No pain, no Gaines...

There are some beautifully acted, written and directed scenes which even the most hard-hearted cinemagoer will struggle to be unmoved by, but they're part of a loose, fairly rambling narrative in which the titular servant is more of an observer than a protagonist. Quite often it seems as though Whitaker is only acting as a conduit, through which we see a greatest-hits reel of the civil rights movement over the last sixty years. By no means a bad thing, but by no means an original one, either.... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheMightyBlackout at 22:01, 28 November 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Was interested in this until I heard how much was made up...

The Butler, which sometimes resembles a black Forrest Gump meets The Remains Of The Day, is based on the life of Eugene Allen, who served as White House butler for over 30 years and eight presidents from the Truman to the Reagan administrations. Now let’s the bad out of the way first – the film invents and even distorts a great deal – for instance he never had a mother who was raped or a son who joined the Black Panthers. Obviously it was considered that the truth wasn’t dramatic enough and the... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 11:32, 21 November 2013 | Report This Post


SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS

SAVE UP TO 69% GET 12 ISSUES FOR ONLY £25
Get the best seat in the house by subscribing to the world's biggest movie magazine today. Save up to 69% and every month you'll get exclusive subscriber-only covers, access to the biggest stars and the best news, reviews and behind-the-scenes reports straight from the set. Click here to find the perfect offer for you


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
Watch: Night At The Museum's Cast Share Their Favourite Robin Williams Performance
Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Ben Kingsley pay tribute to the actor

Watch: Jack O'Connell And Luke Treadaway Talk Unbroken
On POWs, panto and how to name your bomber

Review Of 2014: The 15 Best Cameos Of The Year
Our favourite one-scene movie-stealers

8 Things You Can Learn From The BFI's Star Wars Exhibition
The original crawl, a 'grotesque' villain and a very different princess

Review Of The Year: 40 Worst Posters Of 2014
One-sheets that you'd rather not have on your wall

Hobbit Q&As: Ian McKellen On Finally Saying Goodbye And Farewell To Gandalf The Grey
Read our exclusive Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies interviews

Review Of 2014: The Best TV Moments Of The Year
We celebrate the small screen's biggest scenes

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 12 Issues Of Empire For Only £25!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 12 issues of Empire for just £25!
Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)