“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is opening to mostly positive reviews.
The film’s star, Forest Whitaker is receiving praise for his portrayal of White House butler Cecil Gaines, a fictional character, based on longtime service worker Eugene Allen.
“Gaines is a tricky role to navigate because the character is so inherently recessive, but Whitaker digs in deep and gives a marvelous under-the-skin performance,” Scott Fondus wrote for Variety. “He seems to catch the very essence of a man who has spent his whole life trying not to be seen.”
Oprah Winfrey stars as Whitaker’s wife, and a slew of fellow celebrities grace the screen in smaller roles, which in the end may hurt the film.
Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty called the multiple cameos “a fun but distracting parade of famous faces, including Robin Williams as Eisenhower, John Cusack as Nixon, and Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as the Reagans.”
While most critics say the Weinstein Company film is a must-see, several critics found the film to be to desperate for Oscar adoration.
“[Lee Daniels] operating very much in awards-bait mode, juggling historical grandeur, family turmoil and a changing societal landscape,” Alonso Duralde for The Wrap.
“Where the movie falls apart is in its desire to deliver Oscar-clip money shots; I counted three or four occasions where the score by Rodrigo Leão wells up for what’s supposed to be a “cry now” moment, but the intended sweep just isn’t there.”
“Thanks to Whitaker’s touching lead performance and a script that keeps the scope of the entire Civil Rights Movement contained to but appropriately dominant in a single movie, ‘The Butler’ is actually quite good as a simultaneous double feature with itself. It may be shameless Oscar bait… alright, it is shameless Oscar bait… but it does its job. It keeps history neat and tidy and serves the audience well,” said William Bibbiani of Crave Online.