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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Sep 6, 2013

The Butler Movie Review - A Blockbuster In The U.S. But A Flop In Manila

‘THE BUTLER’ is a huge blockbuster in the U.S., topping the box office charts for several weeks. But here, it quickly went out of the theatres as local viewers are obviously not interested in the life story of a black man, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), who served as butler in the White House under several U.S. presidents.

The film starts in the 1920 when Cecil is a cotton picker in the fields who sees his share-cropper dad being shot in cold blood by one of the owners of the plantation (Alex Pettyfer). Her mom (Mariah Carey) is raped. The matriarch of the house, Annabeth Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave), gets him to work as a servant and he later becomes a butler in a hotel.

He is later offered to work in the White House, where he serves under 8 presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower (Robin Williams) to Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman), but three presidents aren’t given that much importance in the film: Truman, Ford and Carter. Liev Schreiber plays Lyndon Johnson who figures in a memorable toilet scene where he does business while making racial slurs. James Marsden is John F. Kennedy. Robin Williams and Alan Rickman put on prosthetic make up to play Eisenhower and Reagan, but it’s not very convincing. The most unbelievable of all is John Cusack as Nixon, who doesn’t at all look or sound like the 37th President. Nevertheless, the film gives us the chance to see see how the dynamics within 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or The White House changed from one administration to another in the course of the second half of the last century.

Cecil is married to a loving but alcoholic wife, Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), who has an affair with their neighbour (Terence Howard.) His son, Louis (David Oyelowo), becomes a civil rights activist in college and he’s beaten up and jailed for this. He concludes that Martin Luther King's peaceful approach in protesting doesn't work. He turns into a radical and joins the black power movement of the Black Panthers.

It’s said that all events depicted within the White House really happened, but the movie is more interesting when it’s about Cecil’s family life, particularly his conflict with his son Louis as they have very different views on the role of the black man in America. Cecil has always been a servant and is non-confrontational. He personifies the White House ethic for servants of “You see nothing, you hear nothing. You just serve.” Louis is very firm about taking a stand to fight for black equality.

Oscar-winner Whitaker once again comes up with a first rate performance as Cecil. David Oyelowo gives a compelling performance as his angry son and Oprah Winfrey also stands out as the wife despite her limited screen time. Oprah is able to create a sympathetic character as the neglected wife. Cecil has promised Gloria that he will take her to the White House one day, but it takes 50 years for this promise to be fulfilled, thanks to Nancy Reagan, played by Jane Fonda. We won’t be surprised if Forest, Oprah and David would all get nominated for their fine performances.