Monday, August 19, 2013
Lee Daniels' THE BUTLER: My review
All of the stunt casting took you right out of the movie. Just as you watch an SNL skit with Fred Armisen and decide how well he’s playing Obama, that’s what you do with Liev Schreiber playing Lyndon Johnson (answer: ridiculous).
Along the way they also had Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Vanessa Redgrave, Terrence Howard, Jane Fonda, and Minka Kelly (as Jackie Kennedy, who in one of the most absurd scenes in the film is mourning the death of her husband, still wearing her blood-stained suit, and she takes time out to give the butler Kennedy’s tie. Yet another “What the fuck?” moment. There's maybe six of them in this film.) How did they miss Randy Jackson and Mike Tyson?
As for the leads – Forrest Whittaker was sensational. I wish he had more to play, but he proves (once again) that he is one of our finest screen actors. An Oscar nomination for sure and probably a well-deserved win for Forrest.
(Interesting that the star is named Forrest because even the director admits this movie is sort of a black FORREST GUMP.)
Whittaker is the good news. Then there’s Oprah Winfrey. First, let me say this – I don’t think anyone ever has or ever will be as good a talk show host as Oprah Winfrey. Charisma, poise, accessibility, showmanship, humanity – the woman is the absolute gold standard, and I have nothing but respect for what's she done and all she's accomplished.
But she’s not a great actor. I’m sorry. She's just not. And it’s even more apparent when she’s playing a scene against a great actor.
Every time Oprah came on the screen I suddenly felt like I was watching a vanity project. Again, this story deserved more. This subject matter deserved your complete undivided attention. All I kept thinking was how much better this role would be if Viola Davis or Queen Latifa played it.
I wish the director and the studio trusted the material. I wish they felt that the saga was compelling enough and socially significant enough that they didn’t have to resort to tricks. They didn’t need stunt casting. They didn’t have to jam their characters in every historical event Zelig style. This movie should be taken seriously, but it’s hard to do that with Mariah Carey.
Still, you should probably see it – unless you’re a diehard Republican (because you will hate it I guarantee you). It’s well-meaning, certainly ambitious, and ultimately this movie is not about liking, it’s about appreciating.