Director Lee Daniels—prominently mentioned in The Butler’s title (officially Lee Daniels’ The Butler) after a much publicized lawsuit—delivers a fine emotional wallop with this historical epic loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, a butler at the White House for 34 years.
The character based on Allen is renamed Cecil (played by Forest Whitaker), and the character is given a fictional older son in order to depict a family conflict regarding the Civil Rights Movement. In other words: This film, which shows the butler interacting with presidents from Eisenhower (Robin Williams) through Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman), is mostly made up. That doesn’t hurt the film’s dramatic significance; it’s an ultimately moving experience.
What does hurt the film a bit is the horrible makeup, especially a goofy fake nose for John Cusack as Richard Nixon. The makeup is so bad that the film turns into unintentional comedy when some characters are onscreen.
Whitaker holds the whole thing together, and Oprah Winfrey—in her first starring role since her excellent turn in Beloved—does strong work as Cecil’s wife. Other stars playing presidents include a relatively makeup-free James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, and an absolutely covered Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson.
This one gathered some early Oscar buzz, but that seems to have died off. That’s OK; the movie is decent, but its flaws keep it far from greatness.
I tried, but I simply couldn’t accept Cusack as Nixon, and Rickman as Reagan. That’s just some silly casting right there.
Special Features: A making-of documentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel and a music video are all you get.