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The Butler
Lee Daniels Stany Zjednoczone, 2013
There’s an essential power to its forthrightly political-historical remediation, even if the way it goes about that is unapologetically broad and ham-handed. In other words, the world may not have needed a history of twentieth-century African-American culture with the general simplifying and narrative flattening of Forrest Gump, but it does need historical dramas from a black point of view.
November 25, 2013
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The idea of the butler as a trojan horse for social change is a compelling one, given the historical association of the role with passivity and compliance. Yet this tricky, complex film — a moral conundrum cloaked inside the buttery, soft-focus sheen of the classical Hollywood biopic — never fully throws its weight behind that viewpoint.
November 14, 2013
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The minutiae of daily life and the haunting psychic recesses are all inseparable from the exercise of government power—and “The Butler” has the remarkable effect of making that power appear visible, as if the very air we breathe were suddenly given a tint.
August 24, 2013
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In the film’s single most audacious sequence, Daniels cuts between the following scenes: one of the famous Woolworth’s sit-ins of 1960, in which Louis takes part; flashbacks to Louis and other activists preparing each other for the sort of racist threats they’ll receive at the sit-in; and shots of Cecil and other butlers preparing a dinner party for John F. Kennedy. Here Daniels situates a moment of political action between two very different scenes of role-playing…
August 21, 2013
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Lee Daniels’s heart (one happily returns to metaphor) is clearly beating more assuredly here than it was in The Paperboy—with its “beat all” climactic scene of Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Ephron to heal a jellyfish bite. Good taste is timeless, and so in this case is good filmmaking.
August 19, 2013
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Everybody decries comparing mainstream “black” directors, but everybody secretly does it, so, what the hell, let’s play: On the evidence of “The Butler” alone, I’d say Daniels will grow in greater esteem with cineastes than either pioneer Spike Lee or box office champ Tyler Perry. Daniels assimilates their scattershot styles and ambitions into his own alternately operatic, comic book, hyper-realistic, improvisatory and programmatic style.
August 15, 2013
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By having Nicole Kidman void herself on Zac Efron in The Paperboy, Daniels opened himself to a lot of bad jokes, but The Butler is a vastly more conventional and watchable film, worth taking on its own terms. As a director, Daniels remains maddeningly erratic; like Precious, The Butler has a tendency to undermine its material with caricature, and the presidential casting here is a particular embarrassment.
August 15, 2013
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This is a fairly hokey conceit, written in broad, ham-handed strokes by Danny Strong (Recount, Game Change), and Daniels does it no favors by employing stunt casting in most of the white roles: Robin Williams as Eisenhower, John Cusack as Nixon (!), Alan Rickman as Reagan (!!!). But his sledgehammer approach invigorates familiar scenes in which Louis and his friends sit at whites-only lunch counters or face off against cross-burning Klan members.
August 14, 2013
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…I am perhaps overestimating the extent to which contemporary audiences are invested in coherent, consistent adherence to certain dramatic unities/conventions. For myself, I found the hints of a smarter, more considered movie kind of frustrating whenever “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” turned into a spot-the-star exercise.
August 14, 2013
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I’d be hard-pressed to describe “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” as a good movie. It’s programmatic, didactic and shamelessly melodramatic… But “The Butler” is indisputably an important film and a necessary one, arriving at the end of the summer of Paula Deen and George Zimmermanand the Detroit bankruptcy, a summer that has vividly reminded us that if America’s ancient racial wounds have faded somewhat, they have never healed.
August 14, 2013
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Daniels connects the two stories [Cecil’s and his son’s] in brilliant ways, including a standout montage sequence that cuts between Cecil’s meticulous performance serving at a state dinner and Louis’ horrifying experience during a sit-in protest at a diner. Taken as a whole, this segment both exemplifies and subverts the “two faces” ideology in a burst of cinematic style.
August 14, 2013
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In Precious, the characters were walking symbols for the worst horrors of inner-city life.The Butler puts its characters first. Daniels re-creates some of the most potent and horrific images of the civil rights era, including those of young black protesters being blasted with firehoses. But his approach is, for the most part, more personal than instructional. You can see where everyone’s coming from in The Butler, why some characters are afraid to ask for more while others dare to demand it.
August 14, 2013
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It’s hard to think of a recent film that’s at once so familiar and welcoming in its overarching story of hard-won triumph and yet so radical and nuanced in form. At one point, a bus of Freedom Riders, Louis among them, is stopped and overtaken by the Ku Klux Klan, a member of which tosses a Molotov cocktail into the vehicle. Another director would have stayed outside with the bigots and let our blood build to a boil, but Daniels keeps us in the rushing terror…
August 11, 2013
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At its most daring, the film acts as a subtly incendiary corrective to Hollywood’s subservient treatment of blacks… This dismantling of a story from within manages to be both enthrallingly meta and movingly sincere.
August 09, 2013
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in spite of itself, the film belatedly springs to life, largely thanks to Oyelowo, who plays Louis from a teenager to a middle-aged man with some help from makeup, but mostly with the transformative inner force of a great actor. Even when the plotting remains leaden and predictable, he’s electrifying to watch…
August 08, 2013
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