User Score
6.7

Generally favorable reviews- based on 173 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Negative: 23 out of 173
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  1. Sep 6, 2013
    5
    Long and tedious. Two stars maybe. Fair acting. Good film clips. Dull in parts and way too long ..Save your money. Definitely not worth the money or time.
  2. Jan 16, 2014
    6
    Lee Daniels’ enterprising biographic saga of Cecil Gaines (Whitaker), a black White House butler who serves eight presidents (based on a true story), was a substantial Box Office triumph back in October, and the talking point converges on its all-star cast, in particular the varying presidents and historic personages’ impersonation and an Oscar-baiting role for Oprah Winfrey’s big screenLee Daniels’ enterprising biographic saga of Cecil Gaines (Whitaker), a black White House butler who serves eight presidents (based on a true story), was a substantial Box Office triumph back in October, and the talking point converges on its all-star cast, in particular the varying presidents and historic personages’ impersonation and an Oscar-baiting role for Oprah Winfrey’s big screen return, 15 years after BELOVED (1998).

    I’m not a naysayer of Daniel’s sordid THE PAPERBOY (2012, 6/10), but his trademark sepia-tone does precipitates the visual fatigue in spite of its retrospective homage, and the sketchy account of different presidents comes shortchanged as trite and uninspiring. The mainstay, nevertheless, is undeviatingly unraveled around Cecil’s dissidence against his radical son Louis (Oyelowo), underpinned by a very Oparhesque slap during an inopportune family dinner, until the belated conciliation. Cecil’s reserved discretion stems from his childhood trauma in the southern cotton field, but fortuitously he is discovered by an obnoxious officer to work in the White House (this part is schematized hastily and deficient of rationality, it must be more rigid procedures to be recruited as a staff there).

    So infused with the prerogative of serving the most powerful men in the country and a decent lifestyle, Cecil involuntarily leans on a more conservative slant of the equity movement for black folks, since most presidents he serves hold a strong attitude to change the status quo, he cannot understand why his son cannot be a bit patient but it is another lay of the land out of his comfy home; Louis is a foolhardy fighter, but he has a perspicuous mind, chooses to leave before he is immersed too deep into the Black Panther fanatic. It is not that all these happenings aren’t inviting, but in the film, Daniels only skims on the surfaces of the phenomenon, it is certainly a too wide time span and too many ramifications for one film to entail both comprehensively and attentively.

    Whitaker is brilliant and the MVP here, an ideal husband, a conscientious butler and an apolitical observer, underplays his character with subtle nuances, his two different facades, although the script dare not give him too much to handle just as life should be, his presence is a spectacle to watch. Oyelowo, a rising star deserves more leading roles, is another praiseworthy member from the bulky cast, while Winfrey’s part, is no Monique in PRECIOUS (2009, 8/10), a pedestrian housewife with alcohol problem scarcely has anything new to offer. What are the remainders after the transient merry-go-around of star-popping? I guess for me it is John Cusack’s fake nose and Cuba Gooding Jr.’s smug-face, and the film itself is an underachieved FORREST GUMP (1994, 9/10) wannabe.
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  3. Dec 22, 2013
    5
    What story did Lee Daniels want to tell? Instead of telling a personal story of the man Cecil and his family, Lee Daniels seemed to give us a history lesson of the 20th century that Cecil had nothing to do with. With so many characters and going back and forth between all the major events at the time, the movie loses its focus of telling an incredible journey.
  4. Dec 26, 2013
    5
    The main character is nice and passive, but there is nothing more to him. Trying to build this grand story around him wasn't very necessary because he did absolutely nothing. If you want to tell the evolution of African Americans fight for justice this was not the way to go about it. The cast is so large that you either forget half of them or only remember them for their amateurThe main character is nice and passive, but there is nothing more to him. Trying to build this grand story around him wasn't very necessary because he did absolutely nothing. If you want to tell the evolution of African Americans fight for justice this was not the way to go about it. The cast is so large that you either forget half of them or only remember them for their amateur performances. There isn't much to hate about this film, but it just didn't have anything to say that felt worthwhile. Expand
  5. Jan 16, 2014
    5
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Affermare che la montagna ha partorito il topolino potrà essere banale, ma il modo di dire viene subito in mente dopo aver assistito a questa fiera delle occasioni sprecate. Il racconto della vita di Cecil Gaines, dalle piantagioni di cotone degli anni Venti dove la schiavitù non era ancora finita all’elezione di un presidente nero, era sulla carta interessante perché consente di raccontare la difficile strada verso la parità della gente di colore attraverso gli occhi di un uomo che passa la maggior parte del suo tempo fra i bianchi, anzi nel cuore stesso del loro potere, la Casa Bianca. Cresciuto sottomesso e con una professione che richiede discrezione e invisibilità, Cecil si fa scorrere addosso la vicenda storica della ribellione della sua gente nella quale si infila invece con convinzione il figlio Louis che ne paga le conseguenze nei confronti della legge (botte e prigione) e del padre, che gli sarà per lungo tempo lontano. Ispirato a una figura realmente esistita, il protagonista è una brava persona che lavora sodo ed è attaccata alla famiglia, ma che fa carriera sottomettendosi e non ribellandosi per poi accorgersi troppo tardi che nella sua vità ci poteva essere spazio per qualcosa di più. Ecco, da tutto questo po’ po’ di spunti, il regista Lee Daniels e lo sceneggiatore Danny Strong ricavano un film quasi del tutto piatto dal punto di vista emozionale (la cosa più appassionante è, di gran lunga, il trailer) per colpa anche di una struttura troppo frammentata fatta di brevi momenti che qua e là tendono a ripetersi, come nel rapporto tra Gaines e la moglie Gloria. Non sempre è efficace neppure lo sfruttamento dei momenti topici che si intrecciano alla vita di Cecil: gli assassinii di Kennedy e Martin Luther King sono poco più che accennati e l’esistenza di un secondo figlio, Charlie, sembra servire solo a indicare che, ah sì, c’è stata anche la guerra del Vietnam. Le amnesie (clamorosa l’assenza di Malcolm X, citato di passaggio in una battuta) e le distorsioni storiche del cinema statunitense non hanno mai impedito di fare dei bei film, ma qui la visione è abbastanza superficiale da far sì che, ad esempio, i presidenti sembrino un po’ tutti uguali: apprezzabile la scelta di non ricercare la somiglianza a tutti i costi, ma restano figure bidimensionali con la sola eccezione del Nixon un po’ troppo affezionato alla bottiglia di John Cusack. L’attore è solo uno dei tanti che appaiono solo pochi minuti in un cast davvero esagerato che va da Robin Williams (Eisenowher) ad Alan Rickman (Reagan) e da Vanessa Redgrave (la padrona del piccolo Cecil) a Jane Fonda (probabilmente la migliore nell’impersonare un’energica Nancy Reagan), mentre un po’ più di spazio lo hanno Cuba Gooding Jr e Lenny Kravitz nei panni degli amici e colleghi del protagonista. La prestazioni degli attori è, comunque, la nota più positiva del film e questo vale soprattutto per i ruoli principali. Un dimagrito Forest Whitaker dimostra anche con Cecil Gaines di essere un interprete assai sottovalutato e, accanto a lui, Oprah Winfrey dà vita a Gloria con sorprendente gusto e sensibilità, costretta prima a sopportare le assenze del marito e poi a cercare di mediare tra lui e il figlio (David Oyelowo). Sono loro che, dando profondità ai rapporti interfamiliari igrazie a scene in cui anche la scrittura è più efficace, attirano comunque l’attenzione dello spettatore: certo, se il film terminasse con la presa di coscienza di Cecil sarebbe meglio, ma la pleonastica coda obamiana (che pure odora un po’ di propaganda) ha un suo senso nella chiusura di una fase storica in cui sono vissute e si sono confrontate due anime all’interno della comunità nera degli Stati Uniti. Forse un giorno qualcuno ci racconterà tale confronto con più efficacia, ora possiamo accontentarci di questo elegante (buona la fotografia di Andrew Dunn, incalzante la partitura di Rodrigo Leão) ma un po’ prolisso bigino Expand
  6. Dec 24, 2013
    5
    Just got around to seeing ‘Lee Daniel’s The butler’ and in short; it was a moderately entertaining picture, with a possible identity crisis. The movie arbitrarily shifts from being a history lesson on racism, a teaser with various presidential cameos and a moving family drama. With very good performances from Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo, it finds much success as aJust got around to seeing ‘Lee Daniel’s The butler’ and in short; it was a moderately entertaining picture, with a possible identity crisis. The movie arbitrarily shifts from being a history lesson on racism, a teaser with various presidential cameos and a moving family drama. With very good performances from Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo, it finds much success as a dynamic family drama; but the rest was a mixed bag. From the odd casting choices of the presidents to the haphazardly told story of 20th century racism in America, much of it just didn’t quite jell. However, I would like to stress on the quality of those performances, which carries this film up steep slope. That’s what largely made this a decent watch. Expand
  7. Nov 20, 2013
    6
    Four words: So much wasted potential. First, the good. Whittaker was fantastic as always, as was the actor who played the older son. The cinematography is fantastic, and some scenes are extremely well done. The problem I had with this film was that it was actually two different films: the story of the real person on which this was based on(which is quite interesting without theFour words: So much wasted potential. First, the good. Whittaker was fantastic as always, as was the actor who played the older son. The cinematography is fantastic, and some scenes are extremely well done. The problem I had with this film was that it was actually two different films: the story of the real person on which this was based on(which is quite interesting without the fictionalization) and the Civil Rights epic with the story of the father and the son. Both would have been excellent films had they been done separately, but together, it just ends up an oscar-bait-y mess. The all-star casting feels way too gimmicky and doesn't really work (I mean, Oprah? Really? Plenty of talented actresses would kill for that role and would have done a far better job) Expand
  8. Sep 24, 2013
    6
    The film tries to connect the history of race relations and the story of a family. It fails to do so. It trivializes and vulgarizes everything it touches. The cameo appearances backfire badly--Robin Williams and Alan Rickman are spectacularly miscast. Forest Whitaker is extraordinary, and his work redeems the family story but cannot do much for the political history. One critic hasThe film tries to connect the history of race relations and the story of a family. It fails to do so. It trivializes and vulgarizes everything it touches. The cameo appearances backfire badly--Robin Williams and Alan Rickman are spectacularly miscast. Forest Whitaker is extraordinary, and his work redeems the family story but cannot do much for the political history. One critic has called The Butler more of a history lesson than a film. It utterly fails to do justice to our common and very different histories. Expand
  9. Oct 1, 2013
    6
    Great story with unique vantage and fine actors, but too didactic and a bit contrived, as if Cecil were a black Forrest Gump. Makeup is horrific and got in the way of the film
  10. 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’ 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 CecilIt 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.
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  11. Aug 18, 2013
    4
    I thought as a movie it was okay. I just get aggravated with the constant reliving of what went on before my time & the constant slap in the face agenda to depict all white people as racist. I think if you want white people to respect the black race then they need to quit reliving their past & give us the respect we deserve. We have come a long way since the 60's & this type of movie onlyI thought as a movie it was okay. I just get aggravated with the constant reliving of what went on before my time & the constant slap in the face agenda to depict all white people as racist. I think if you want white people to respect the black race then they need to quit reliving their past & give us the respect we deserve. We have come a long way since the 60's & this type of movie only sets us back. We all know the times of slavery were horrible. I never would had treated anyone like the slave owners of that time; no matter their race. I would not have owned slaves in the first place! Not all white people have that mentality. I am from the south & was never taught to hate someone because of their race. I am real disappointed that a film like this was made to keep the hatred of blacks towards white people alive! Expand
  12. Sep 2, 2013
    5
    Somewhat enjoyable film. Just Oprah needs to get the facts straight. If Hollywood could come up with a historical movie and actually get all the facts right I would give that movie a 10 even if it were not the most entertaining movie ever made. This revisionist history lesson is one step over Forrest Gump in accuracy. Of course it has to end with Oprah's little baby she helped createSomewhat enjoyable film. Just Oprah needs to get the facts straight. If Hollywood could come up with a historical movie and actually get all the facts right I would give that movie a 10 even if it were not the most entertaining movie ever made. This revisionist history lesson is one step over Forrest Gump in accuracy. Of course it has to end with Oprah's little baby she helped create called Obama. I am surprised he did not make a cameo with all the free press. That with the butler having retired during the Reagan years. Oh and of course lets knock Reagan too in the movie because all white people in the film are reduced to a level of the Jefferson's neighbor in a 70's sitcom. Expand
  13. Oct 21, 2013
    4
    Great acting but rank revisionist history. Seems to demonstrate more the writer's political philosophy than any actual fact. He needed a Whitehouse full of racists till the annointed one appears. When they didn't exist, he makes a racist when none exists. 5 for Forest Whitaker, 0 for Daniel Lee. Negatives for the horrible smear job it does on good leaders. And another negative for castingGreat acting but rank revisionist history. Seems to demonstrate more the writer's political philosophy than any actual fact. He needed a Whitehouse full of racists till the annointed one appears. When they didn't exist, he makes a racist when none exists. 5 for Forest Whitaker, 0 for Daniel Lee. Negatives for the horrible smear job it does on good leaders. And another negative for casting Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagon. Why not just cast a white supremacist as Malcolm X. Expand
  14. Nov 24, 2013
    6
    This is a moving chronicle of a semi-fictionalized White House butler as seen through the civil rights movement. It has a fantastic montage (or maybe more like a series of intercut scenes) of the black staff at the White House and the Freedom Riders in Alabama. It was one of the more amazing intercut sequences I've seen. I teared up twice during this movie. Whitaker is great.

    This movie
    This is a moving chronicle of a semi-fictionalized White House butler as seen through the civil rights movement. It has a fantastic montage (or maybe more like a series of intercut scenes) of the black staff at the White House and the Freedom Riders in Alabama. It was one of the more amazing intercut sequences I've seen. I teared up twice during this movie. Whitaker is great.

    This movie is also an over-the-top melodrama. It is so melodramatic that, even given the subject matter, I'm calling it melodramatic.

    So I think a 6 is about right.

    The movie is a biopic/history series of events, with a few threads tying it together. But given the subject matter, I can't really fault it for not having a more traditional structure or conventional dramatic arc. If you're interested in the premise, go see it.
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  15. Feb 15, 2014
    6
    This movie deserves praise just because Forest Whitaker carries the film so nobly and gracefully in his role of the fictitious butler, Cecil Gaines. It is too bad that the producers saw fit to so drastically change the story of the real-life butler, Eugene Allen, who served in the White House for 34 years until his retirement in 1986. I'm sure his story would have been fascinating enoughThis movie deserves praise just because Forest Whitaker carries the film so nobly and gracefully in his role of the fictitious butler, Cecil Gaines. It is too bad that the producers saw fit to so drastically change the story of the real-life butler, Eugene Allen, who served in the White House for 34 years until his retirement in 1986. I'm sure his story would have been fascinating enough without trying to fit in the history of the civil rights movement in the background. In any event, the film did not do justice to the long and complicated story of the civil rights movement. I'm not sure any fictional film could do it justice. From 1987 to 1990, PBS broadcast a 14-hour documentary on the civil rights movement, entitled Eyes on the Prize. I would think fourteen hours is the minimum to cover such a complicated and lengthy subject area.

    It was interesting to note Robin Williams in the role of Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Cusack in the role of Richard Nixon, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan (with Jane Fonda as Mrs. Reagan). The make-up and the similarity to the real presidents were remarkable; nevertheless every famous actor was clearly recognizable and there was the risk of the film almost becoming parody. Vanessa Redgrave and Mariah Carey have small roles. Also surprising, Oprah Winfrey, as the wife of Cecil Gaines, making a comeback for the first time in years in a truly dramatic role in a feature film. She is perhaps too famous and too much a familiar face to turn up as a fictional character in a film. When the film did a little montage of television programs to speed up time and show how African-Americans became influential icons of fashion, music, and dance, I almost expected to see a snippet from an Oprah Winfrey show. The real Oprah had to be omitted given the circumstances, but she should have been there.

    There were some interesting moments, such as Martin Luther King (Nelsan Ellis) explaining that the role of the black domestic was actually an extremely important role in black American history because of the trust and closeness that developed between white employer and black employee, which in fact went against all racial stereotypes. In the film, King concludes that the role of the black domestic was in fact the role of the subversive, an interesting take on the menial domestic positions blacks were forced into for so many decades.

    In spite of the film's flaws, there are not many quality films that give so many black actors such a wonderful opportunity to both strut their stuff and to document black suffering in America at the same time.
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  16. Sep 1, 2014
    5
    An inspiring story of epic proportions that isn't quite as grand as it makes itself out to be. Notable performances from Oprah Winfrey and Jane Fonda; however, the talented cast doesn't quite pull off the individuals which they portray.
  17. Mar 13, 2014
    5
    A fair movie with good performance by Forrest Whitaker. Unfortunately it is another attempt at fanning the racist fire. President Reagan was not a racist in my opinion.
Metascore
66

Generally favorable reviews - based on 47 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 30 out of 47
  2. Negative: 0 out of 47
  1. Reviewed by: Jenny McCartney
    Nov 20, 2013
    80
    The Butler might bite off more history than it can chew, but it packs a sustained emotional punch, more than a pinch of wit, and a superb performance from Whitaker as a man burning with passion beneath his immaculate, repressed exterior.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.