Lee Daniels' The Butler

Metascore
66

Generally favorable reviews - based on 47 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 30 out of 47
  2. Negative: 0 out of 47

Where To Watch

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Critic Reviews

  1. Reviewed by: Trevor Johnston
    Nov 12, 2013
    60
    The result isn’t as powerful as it should be. But it’s still cheering to see a film whose moral journey has little to do with the usual Hollywood chestnut of white middle-class consciousness-raising.
  2. Reviewed by: Simon Braund
    Nov 11, 2013
    60
    Manipulative and preachy, The Butler is redeemed by a sensitive performance from Forest Whitaker and the undeniable power of the events it depicts.
  3. Reviewed by: Tony Horkins
    Nov 7, 2013
    60
    It may skip so quickly through historic events that it can feel rushed and flimsy, but excellent performances elevate it to serious Oscar contender.
  4. Reviewed by: David Denby
    Aug 19, 2013
    60
    The Butler is a lightweight, didactic movie, a kind of well-produced high-school entertainment.
  5. Reviewed by: Mike Scott
    Aug 16, 2013
    60
    Making it even more intriguing is the fact that the whole thing is, extraordinarily, inspired by a true story.
  6. Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    Aug 15, 2013
    60
    The butler, Cecil Gaines, is a fictional creation, an African-American Forrest Gump who bears special witness to the civil-rights movement while serving on the White House staff under seven presidents. The contrivance is stretched to its breaking point over a running time of 132 minutes; some of the episodes cross a different line from almost plausible to downright silly. That's not the whole story, though.
  7. Reviewed by: Kenneth Turan
    Aug 15, 2013
    60
    Daniels' pulp instincts do lead to vivid sequences...but this is one significant film where less would have been a whole lot more.
  8. Reviewed by: Andrew O'Hehir
    Aug 14, 2013
    60
    Lee Daniels’ The Butler is big, brave, crude and contradictory, very bad in places and very good in others, and every American should see it.
  9. Reviewed by: Keith Uhlich
    Aug 9, 2013
    60
    Viewers familiar with Daniels’s idiosyncratically vulgar work might be disappointed that there’s little here that compares to Nicole Kidman loosing a yellow stream on Zac Efron’s jellyfish stings in "The Paperboy" (2012).
  10. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Aug 9, 2013
    60
    Inspiring if not inspired, Lee Daniels' The Butler is a sort of Readers' Digest overview of the 20th century American civil rights movement centered on an ordinary individual with an extraordinary perspective.
  11. Reviewed by: Marc Mohan
    Aug 19, 2013
    58
    By trying to inflate one remarkable life story into the chronicle of a generation, Daniels fills what could have been an inspirational, personal saga with a lot of hot air.
  12. Reviewed by: Kimber Myers
    Aug 9, 2013
    58
    Lee Daniels’ The Butler could be an important film that comes at a time where race is still a challenging topic for America, but it succeeds less as a film than as a history lesson.
  13. Reviewed by: Mark Jenkins
    Aug 16, 2013
    55
    Many of the White House scenes are jarringly motley, as Whitaker maintains Gaines' dignity against a series of performances that range from bland (James Marsden's JFK) to cartoonish (Liev Schreiber's LBJ). It comes as a relief when Daniels reduces Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford to TV clips — though that strategy makes the film even more of a stylistic jumble.
  14. Reviewed by: John Anderson
    Aug 15, 2013
    50
    Even as Cecil lives his life slightly adjacent to history, building a heroic film around him requires herculean effort.
  15. Reviewed by: Mick LaSalle
    Aug 15, 2013
    50
    A nice idea for a movie, but has a mostly silly script and some of the craziest and most laughable casting imaginable. But the movie's main challenge is a simple one: It is very difficult, next to impossible, to build a movie around an inert, inactive character.
  16. Reviewed by: Nathan Rabin
    Aug 14, 2013
    40
    Instead of committing wholeheartedly to telling the story of a single family, Daniels gets distracted trying to tell the story of our nation’s complicated racial history.
  17. Reviewed by: Katy Rich
    Aug 9, 2013
    40
    A great film about the American civil rights movement is way overdue. The Butler, overwhelmed by flash and good intentions, doesn't even come close.
User Score
6.7

Generally favorable reviews- based on 183 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 34 out of 56
  2. Negative: 5 out of 56
  1. Tac
    Aug 18, 2013
    1
    Predictable message movie. Save your money and watch it at home so you can fast forward through the boring parts. Oprah is better as a talkPredictable message movie. Save your money and watch it at home so you can fast forward through the boring parts. Oprah is better as a talk show host.
    Wierd casting choices aside from Forrest Whitaker who was good.
    Full Review »
  2. Aug 22, 2013
    1
    Aside from casting Jane Fonda as Mrs. Reagan, this movie failed to show the greater struggle over adversity. Perhaps, this is because it wasAside from casting Jane Fonda as Mrs. Reagan, this movie failed to show the greater struggle over adversity. Perhaps, this is because it was a quick-moving period piece. Oftentimes, the misplaced humor downplayed the next scene which may have been tragic and/or historic. Scenes where occasionally confusing due to a jump in time and reference point.. The storyline contributed to the movie's disappointment; that is-it wasn't a story about an employee in the White House, but the story of that employee's personal life. This movie reminded me of a Hallmark special. Full Review »
  3. Aug 16, 2013
    4
    It has been a long time since Hollywood had made a family saga spanning 90 years but it hasn’t been that long since ‘based on a true story’It has been a long time since Hollywood had made a family saga spanning 90 years but it hasn’t been that long since ‘based on a true story’ has been distorted and changed and Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ does both. The screenplay is by Danny Strong telling 3 different stories that sometimes gels and other times remain separate and apart. The first story is about Eugene Allen, here named Cecil Gaines, and played by Forest Whitaker, who was the butler at the White House during 8 administrations, with stunt casting of presidents and first ladies. The second story is of his marriage to Gloria Gaines, played by Oprah Winfrey, and his two sons Louis and Charlie, played by various actors at different ages (in real life they only had one son), while the third story is the history of Black America, Black Americans and the fight for their civil rights ending in 2008 with Obama, the president elect.

    There are major roles played by Cuba Gooding, jr., Terrence Howard, James Holloway, Yaya Alafia, Elijah Kelly, David Oyelowo, Lenny Kravitz, Colman Domingo and Clarence Williams 3rd all doing better than good jobs.

    Most adults will be familiar with all the civil rights pictures, some recreated, some shown in their original TV stories, such as sit-ins, Freedom Riders, the Black Panther Party, Blacks being hit with water hoses and Black people being put in jail while it might be a good, and new, lesson to those under 35.

    The stunt casting has Robin Williams as President Eisenhower, Liev Schreiber as President Johnson, James Marsden playing John Kennedy, Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as President and Mrs. Reagan, John Cusack as Nixon, Minka Kelly as Jackie Kennedy and Nelson Ellis. There are appearances by Mariah Carey, Vanessa Redgrave, David Banner and Alex Pettyfer.

    Forest Whitaker holds the picture together, while Winfrey as his wife gives him solid support. The director, Lee Daniels, loses control of the 3 separate stories, not melding them as well as he should, but does go for the tear ducts and manipulates the audiences feelings. The production values covering the decades of costumes, make-up, hair designs and set designs are first rate from beginning to end.

    The bottom line is that you who lived through the events won’t be able to avoid the feelings but you will feel tricked by the corny screenplay.
    Full Review »