As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man's life, family, and American society.
Cecil Gaines was a sharecropper's son who grew up in the 1920s as a domestic servant for the white family who casually destroyed his. Eventually striking out on his own, Cecil becomes a hotel valet of such efficiency and discreteness in the 1950s that he becomes a butler in the White House itself. There, Cecil would serve numerous US Presidents over the decades as a passive witness of history with the American Civil Rights Movement gaining momentum even as his family has troubles of its own. As his wife, Gloria, struggles with her addictions and his defiant eldest son, Louis, strives for a just world, Cecil must decide whether he should take action in his own way. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Columbia Pictures put the film in turnaround in 2008. The Weinstein Company acquired the distribution rights in 2012. See more »
In the long shot of the White House dated 1957, the fence along Pennsylvania Avenue has concrete barriers. They were installed after the Beirut bombings in 1983. In a later scene, using an old film image, the barriers aren't there. See more »
The Butler looks at the civil-rights movement from the point of view of ordinary African-American people. The genius of this film is the choice of a white house servant and his life as a focal point to the historical events portrayed.
The drama is both absorbing and emotionally rich. What is surprising is the way that sympathy for Whitaker's central character, Cecil Gaines, is so strong that the events, though sprawling, always resonate as intricate pieces of his life; because of this anchor, the film remains intimate and personal, even when the fate of an entire nation is involved.
Each actor excels here, the reason for this is that they, while obviously being highly talented individuals, are led by a commanding director who knows exactly what he's saying at all times, while keeping all the complexity of his subject matter.
You could say this is an African-American Forrest Gump: the story of an everyman whose fate collides repeatedly with historical figures and events, but The Butler is far more mature and subtle work which, beyond race, questions our roles as men and women in our daily lives. It questions and explores moral responsibility and how from generation to generation we can all search for what is the right moral conduct in the face of opposition, oppression and evil. It also shows how we can make a profound difference in life through dedication, integrity and love.
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