Richard Roeper Blog

REVIEW: ‘The Butler’ moves gracefully through history

By the time Jane Fonda shows up as Nancy Reagan and we realize that’s Alan Rickman beneath the makeup playing Ronald Reagan in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” we’ve been conditioned to expect the unexpected.

This movie has one of the most astonishing casts of any film I’ve ever seen — and I mean that mostly in a good way.

More on all that later. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” — and we have to use that cumbersome title due to a legal dispute that prevented the studio from calling this “The Butler”— is a sweeping, often deeply moving look at race relations in 20th-century America as seen through the prism of a man that served in the White House from the Truman administration through the Reagan years.

Forest Whitaker gives one of the signature performances of his brilliant career as the title character. Playing his wife, Oprah Winfrey deserves award consideration for the rich, nuanced work she does in her first role on the big screen in more than a decade.

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is inspired by the true story of Eugene Allen, whose 30-plus years in the White House were chronicled in a 2008 Washington Post article. In this highly fictionalized version, the butler is named Cecil Gaines, who endures unspeakable horrors as a child on a cotton farm in the South in the 1920s, runs off as soon as he’s old enough, and through a series of convenient turns of fate and a lot of hard work, finds himself in tuxedo and white gloves in the White House…


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