Generally favorable reviews - based on 47 Critics What's this?

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Generally favorable reviews- based on 154 Ratings

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Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 30 out of 47
  2. Negative: 0 out of 47
  1. Reviewed by: A.O. Scott
    Aug 15, 2013
    A brilliantly truthful film on a subject that is usually shrouded in wishful thinking, mythmongering and outright denial.
  2. Reviewed by: Chris Nashawaty
    Aug 7, 2013
    As Cecil, Whitaker is mesmerizing. The actor seems to shrink into his imposing frame, summoning a performance of quiet, bottled-up force.
  3. Reviewed by: James Berardinelli
    Aug 19, 2013
    With The Butler, director Lee Daniels has managed to "Gump" the Civil Rights movement. That's not necessarily a bad thing but there are times when so many famous cameos threaten to become a distraction, especially since they're only tangentially germane to the main story.
  4. Reviewed by: Laremy Legel
    Aug 13, 2013
    Full of truth that's ultimately diluted by a lack of focus.
  5. Reviewed by: Lou Lumenick
    Aug 14, 2013
    Although director Lee Daniels dials things down a bit here, subtlety is not what he does. That strategy worked for “Precious’’ but turned his more recent “The Paperboy’’ into a feature-length howler.
  6. Reviewed by: David Denby
    Aug 19, 2013
    The Butler is a lightweight, didactic movie, a kind of well-produced high-school entertainment.
  7. Reviewed by: Katy Rich
    Aug 9, 2013
    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.

See all 47 Critic Reviews

Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 38 out of 52
  2. Negative: 4 out of 52
  1. Aug 30, 2013
    What a great movie! Great acting, writing and directing. I haven't seen a movie that I couldn't take my eyes off in a long time. This movie is worth an Oscar. Cecil is a great actor. He is a great storyteller. I appreciate great work he put in the movie. It made me cry to learn what these people went through and it made me feel grateful for the way it is now. It shows you that America is becoming the best country now. Let's be grateful that all the people in this past made this change happen. All hate and segregation.. The people in the past changed that and made America into one. Overall, it is a masterpiece movie that I will always remember in my heart. Expand
  2. Mar 6, 2014
    i love forest whitaker in this great movie . it tells compasion and sort of like 12 years of slave . and it is very great to learn about what its like and see and feels what its like how someone who live in south had to deal with the way they where treating with . Expand
  3. Aug 16, 2013
    "You hear nothing. You see nothing. You only serve." Such are the instructions Cecil Gaines receives as he embarks on his daunting new job at the Eisenhower White House in "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
    But of course Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker in a moving, grounded performance that anchors the film and blunts its riskier excesses, hears and sees everything.
    And that means that over more than three decades on the job, he has a Forrest Gump-like view not only of the White House under seven presidents, but of the long arc of the civil rights struggle in 20th-century
    Much has been said about this movie's potential future as an Oscar powerhouse. The speculation is natural especially given its star-studded cast but it takes away from the more important discussion of its simpler virtues, as an absorbing film that has the potential to teach a new generation (and remind an older one) about these crucial events.
    The story is inspired by a Washington Post profile of Eugene Allen, a White House butler from 1952 to 1986. Some anecdotes remain, but much is different. Most importantly, Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong create a father-son dynamic between Gaines and a rebellious older son, Louis (a terrific David Oyelowo) that serves as a backdrop against which the civil rights struggle can play out through the eyes of black characters, not white ones, for a refreshing change.
    This is done most strikingly in a key montage in which Cecil and his fellow White House workers set up an elegant state dinner, china and crystal and all, while down South, Louis is protesting at a segregated lunch counter, leading to a harrowing confrontation.
    But the story begins in 1926, with the death of Cecil's own father at the hands of the barbaric son of a landowner on a Georgia cotton farm. The elderly landowner (Vanessa Redgrave, beginning the celebrity cameo parade) takes Cecil into her home, where he first learns to be a butler how to act, she tells him, like the room is empty even when he's in it.
    Years later, working in a Washington, D.C. hotel, Cecil is noticed by a White House official, leading to a job there. His wife, Gloria, is immensely proud. Gloria, as you may have heard, is played by one Oprah Winfrey, and her performance is often restrained and quite moving. To her credit, you're not thinking "Wow, Oprah!" in every scene; that in itself is no small triumph.
    Not all the star performances are successful. When we first see Robin Williams as Eisenhower, his head bald, it almost feels like we're about to witness a "Saturday Night Live" skit. Williams doesn't overdo it, but the casting choice seems forced.
    James Marsden, on the other hand, is a good choice as John F. Kennedy, with his handsome grin, boyish demeanour and Boston drawl. Liev Schreiber is amusing if a little broad as LBJ, and John Cusack is interesting as Richard Nixon, even though he looks nothing like him. Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda, making the most of her one scene, make a surprisingly satisfying Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
    But what makes the film work, finally, are the soft-spoken Whitaker, whose dignified portrayal rivals his Oscar-winning work in "The Last King of Scotland," and the powerful Oyelowo, whose Louis progresses over the years from determined and brave to angry and cynical, and ultimately to a seasoned older man.
    Their relationship gives structure to the broad story of civil rights in America a story crucial to tell, and crucial to hear. Daniels and company may not have made a masterpiece, but they have made a film you should see.
  4. Aug 17, 2013
    Though some of the casting choices seemed odd (John Cusack as Richard Nixon???), the principals of the film were in fine form. Forest Whitaker stars as the man who served as a White House butler during eight administrations, quietly watching the Civil Rights movement unfold. For me, however, the real standouts though were Oprah Winfrey (his wife), Terrence Howard (his neighbor), David Oyelowo (his oldest son) and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan.

    For the first half of the film, I was entranced by the scenes involving the fight for civil rights, but didn't embrace the central characters (mostly Whitaker) like I wanted to, BUT the last 45 minutes packed a punch that took me by surprise. Some amazing scenes close out this film, elevating it from "good" to "very good". History, politics, great acting and a "mute" Mariah Carey make this a must-see film. ***1/2 (out of 4)
  5. Nov 24, 2013
    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.
  6. Sep 6, 2013
    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. Expand
  7. Oct 1, 2013
    This movie is well done and Forest Whitaker gives a great performance, but I'm giving it a 1 because it just undeniably racist. Okay reference Obama great that's cool, first black president is a big deal I understand that. When you say that Reagan, one of the greatest presidents ever, was a racist...that pisses me off. There is no reason to have put that in the story. It's wrong and frankly just a low, pointless act of racism. White people can't do anything about it though but just wow, based a true story? Right, this is why racism still exists. Expand

See all 52 User Reviews