Ever since Forest Gump won a multitude of awards in 1994, several movies have copied its template. Using a character as a witness to key historical moments, the aim has been to provide an entertaining history lesson. When facts are mishandled events become awry. One never truly knows the motivation behind films like Gump with some being dubious at best. The Butler offers some questionable perspectives on many factual episodes with portrayals some way from the truth it claims to represent.
Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) begins his working life as a valet during the 1920s. Eventually becoming renowned for his excellent work, his abilities are requested by the White House. Starting an important position as Presidential butler in the 1950s, he would eventually serve 7 American Presidents. Witnessing the rise of the civil rights movement and various crucial social events, his beliefs are constantly challenged during decades of great change.
The Butler ignores one thing making such films succeed – objectivity. It presents a very one-sided view of life as Cecil deals with his job and general racial tension. Whilst the contrast between his subservient role and his family’s constant fight for rights is interesting, the script fumbles these badly. It paints a one dimensional ‘us vs them’ picture. This very basic re-writing of history does no service to those who put their lives on the line as it offers simplistic answers to complex questions.
Another fault is the performances. From Whitaker’s miscast lead to the often bizarre stunt-casting of well-known actors, it is difficult remaining engaged. Lee Daniels’ uninspired direction doesn’t help eliciting little passion. It’s a shame as the story has intriguing elements. The danger of mixing true historical facts with fiction quickly becomes apparent with the level of co-incidental events stretching its already threadbare credibility.
The Butler is a less than satisfactory rummage through historic moments. Although the idea is sound its execution is inept with inaccurate portrayals of monumental events a disservice to those who lived them.
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 3