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Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013) ***

Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013) ***

This historical drama, directed by Lee Daniels to a screenplay by Danny Strong, was inspired by the true story of Eugene Allen who worked at the White House during eight presidential terms from 1952 to 1986. It originally came to light via a The Washington Post article titled A Butler Well Served by This Election by Wil Haygood. The film's title, adding filmmaker's Lee Daniels to it, is a result of a MPAA claim from Warner Bros., which released a 1916 silent short film with the same name, forcing a rename from The Butler to the current title. But enough with trivia...
Lee Daniels' The Butler is an uneven film. At over 2 hours long it feels its length. Furthermore, the pace at which the plot moves mirrors the slowness at which African-Americans won civil rights though several decades of the previous century. It makes the film feels more like a made for History channel TV docudrama than a real Big Screen feature. The musical score plays melodramatically one too many times, and the need the filmmakers apparently felt to squeeze as many highlights from the history of the civil rights movements into the space of the film, takes away from the personal story behind the events. In that sense the film Lincoln made much better choices, focusing on a shorter period of time, thus enabling a deeper look.
On the positive side, an ensemble cast, led by an excellent Forest Whitaker and supported by Oprah Winfrey and Cuba Gooding, to mention just a few, shines. Usually when there are so many star actors in one film, it can be a recipe for disaster, but not here.
Lee Daniels' The Butler is far from being satisfying as a cinematic experience. However, it does take us through a journey of the civil rights movement, a journey worth remembering.

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