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The Butler

Drama . Biography

A look at the life of Cecil Gaines who served eight presidents as the White House's head butler from 1952 to 1986, and had a unique front-row seat as political and racial history was made.

Actors: Forest Whitaker , David Banner , Michael Rainey Jr. , LaJessie Smith , Mariah Carey , Alex Pettyfer , Vanessa Redgrave , Ami Ameen , Clarence Williams III , John P. Fertitta
Directors: Lee Daniels
Country: USA
Release: 2013-08-16
More Info:
  • A.O. Scott

    A brilliantly truthful film on a subject that is usually shrouded in wishful thinking, mythmongering and outright denial.

    The New York Times Full Review
  • Ty Burr

    The Butler is a remarkable, even exhilarating movie not for its inherent Gump-itude but for the social portrait that gimmick allows.

    Boston Globe Full Review
  • Richard Roeper

    This is an important film presented as mainstream entertainment. It’s a great American story.

    Chicago Sun-Times Full Review
  • Chris Cabin

    With the film, Lee Daniels quietly pushes his talent for hashing out visceral, violent emotions into unexpected dramatic terrain.

    Slant Magazine Full Review
  • Lawrence Toppman

    Whitaker’s performance reveals a man who unobtrusively changes white people around him – perhaps without trying or even knowing it – through his demeanor and ability.

    Charlotte Observer Full Review
  • Chris Nashawaty

    As Cecil, Whitaker is mesmerizing. The actor seems to shrink into his imposing frame, summoning a performance of quiet, bottled-up force.

    Entertainment Weekly Full Review
  • Jenny McCartney

    The Butler might bite off more history than it can chew, but it packs a sustained emotional punch, more than a pinch of wit, and a superb performance from Whitaker as a man burning with passion beneath his immaculate, repressed exterior.

    The Telegraph Full Review
  • Joe Neumaier

    A singularly full-hearted and moving film.

    New York Daily News Full Review
  • Bill Goodykoontz

    Make no mistake, Daniels is gunning for awards here; the movie has that sheen, that Big Important Feel. But the performances keep it grounded. Let someone else decide winners and losers. Just enjoy “The Butler” for the sometimes-moving experience it is.

    Arizona Republic Full Review
  • Stephanie Zacharek

    Daniels is that rare contemporary filmmaker who's not afraid of melodrama. The Butler is so old-school it feels modern: Stylistically, it could have been made 30 years ago, but its time is now.

    Village Voice Full Review
  • James Berardinelli

    With The Butler, director Lee Daniels has managed to "Gump" the Civil Rights movement. That's not necessarily a bad thing but there are times when so many famous cameos threaten to become a distraction, especially since they're only tangentially germane to the main story.

    ReelViews Full Review
  • Steven Boone

    Daniels delights in his actors, all of whom accept the challenge of bringing something true and vibrant to their various sketchily written characters with the enthusiasm of celebrity competition-show contestants. Full Review
  • Claudia Puig

    Authentic emotion competes with manufactured sentiment for the heart of Lee Daniels' The Butler.

    USA Today Full Review
  • Steven Rea

    For all its faults - and there are many, from shameless compression of events to milk the drama for all it's worth, to the gimmicky miscasting of several commanders-in-chief (Robin Williams as Eisenhower is especially egregious) - The Butler is an inspiring and important summation of the black struggle.

    Philadelphia Inquirer Full Review
  • Joe Williams

    With Whitaker, Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong pulling the strings, The Butler can take a bow.

    St. Louis Post-Dispatch Full Review
  • Steve Persall

    It's rare to wish a movie were an hour or two longer, when it already feels an hour longer than it is.

    Tampa Bay Times Full Review
  • Eric Kohn

    The Butler carries an authenticity that sustains it through its cloying stretches.

    indieWIRE Full Review
  • Dana Stevens

    The director’s sometimes absurd bravado — along with Forest Whitaker’s grave, wise performance in the title role — is what gives this outsized and sometimes lumbering film its irrefutable emotional power.

    Slate Full Review
  • David Edelstein

    Crudely ­powerful. You can object to the thuggish direction and the script that’s a series of signposts, but not the central idea, which is genuinely illuminating.

    New York Magazine (Vulture) Full Review
  • Scott Foundas

    There’s no denying, though, that Daniels knows how to push an audience’s buttons, and as crudely obvious as The Butler can’s also genuinely rousing. By the end, it’s hard not to feel moved, if also more than a bit manhandled.

    Variety Full Review
  • Peter Rainer

    Ungainly and overly ambitious, The Butler tries to encompass too much history within too narrow a framework.

    Christian Science Monitor Full Review
  • Ben Kenigsberg

    As history, The Butler’s parade of famous moments and figures is superficial to the point of trivialization, reducing years of turmoil to glib sound bites. But in its square, melodramatic way, the movie has a serious point to make.

    The A.V. Club Full Review
  • Marjorie Baumgarten

    A host of A-list stars have been enlisted to play small roles in a bid for viewer engagement. See Mariah Carey in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-her role as Cecil Gaines’ maltreated mother.

    Austin Chronicle Full Review
  • Laremy Legel

    Full of truth that's ultimately diluted by a lack of focus. Full Review
  • Liam Lacey

    The Butler may be a sanctimonious cartoon, but it points to events in the civil rights struggle that were as grotesque and extraordinary as any fiction can invent.

    The Globe and Mail (Toronto) Full Review
  • Peter Travers

    It's watching Cecil open his eyes, in Whitaker's reflective, powerfully understated performance, that fills this flawed film with potency and purpose. Striving really does bring its own glory.

    Rolling Stone Full Review
  • Rene Rodriguez

    Lee Daniels’ The Butler is creaky and sentimental and schmaltzy. The movie lacks any of the unhinged qualities of Daniels’ previous films (The Paperboy, Precious, Shadowboxer).

    Miami Herald Full Review
  • Michael Phillips

    The Butler tells a lot of different stories, some more effectively than others.

    Chicago Tribune Full Review
  • Lou Lumenick

    Although director Lee Daniels dials things down a bit here, subtlety is not what he does. That strategy worked for “Precious’’ but turned his more recent “The Paperboy’’ into a feature-length howler.

    New York Post Full Review
  • Roger Moore

    The patchwork story and pacing robs The Butler of the wit and heart that might have made it a companion piece to the far simpler and more powerful “The Help.” Daniels settles for a soapy, preachy American history version of “Downton Abbey.”

    McClatchy-Tribune News Service Full Review
  • Trevor Johnston

    The result isn’t as powerful as it should be. But it’s still cheering to see a film whose moral journey has little to do with the usual Hollywood chestnut of white middle-class consciousness-raising.

    Time Out London Full Review
  • Simon Braund

    Manipulative and preachy, The Butler is redeemed by a sensitive performance from Forest Whitaker and the undeniable power of the events it depicts.

    Empire Full Review
  • Tony Horkins

    It may skip so quickly through historic events that it can feel rushed and flimsy, but excellent performances elevate it to serious Oscar contender.

    Total Film Full Review
  • David Denby

    The Butler is a lightweight, didactic movie, a kind of well-produced high-school entertainment.

    The New Yorker Full Review
  • Mike Scott

    Making it even more intriguing is the fact that the whole thing is, extraordinarily, inspired by a true story.

    New Orleans Times-Picayune Full Review
  • Joe Morgenstern

    The butler, Cecil Gaines, is a fictional creation, an African-American Forrest Gump who bears special witness to the civil-rights movement while serving on the White House staff under seven presidents. The contrivance is stretched to its breaking point over a running time of 132 minutes; some of the episodes cross a different line from almost plausible to downright silly. That's not the whole story, though.

    Wall Street Journal Full Review
  • Kenneth Turan

    Daniels' pulp instincts do lead to vivid sequences...but this is one significant film where less would have been a whole lot more.

    Los Angeles Times Full Review
  • Andrew O'Hehir

    Lee Daniels’ The Butler is big, brave, crude and contradictory, very bad in places and very good in others, and every American should see it. Full Review
  • Keith Uhlich

    Viewers familiar with Daniels’s idiosyncratically vulgar work might be disappointed that there’s little here that compares to Nicole Kidman loosing a yellow stream on Zac Efron’s jellyfish stings in "The Paperboy" (2012).

    Time Out New York Full Review
  • Todd McCarthy

    Inspiring if not inspired, Lee Daniels' The Butler is a sort of Readers' Digest overview of the 20th century American civil rights movement centered on an ordinary individual with an extraordinary perspective.

    The Hollywood Reporter Full Review
  • Marc Mohan

    By trying to inflate one remarkable life story into the chronicle of a generation, Daniels fills what could have been an inspirational, personal saga with a lot of hot air.

    Portland Oregonian Full Review
  • Kimber Myers

    Lee Daniels’ The Butler could be an important film that comes at a time where race is still a challenging topic for America, but it succeeds less as a film than as a history lesson.

    The Playlist Full Review
  • Mark Jenkins

    Many of the White House scenes are jarringly motley, as Whitaker maintains Gaines' dignity against a series of performances that range from bland (James Marsden's JFK) to cartoonish (Liev Schreiber's LBJ). It comes as a relief when Daniels reduces Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford to TV clips — though that strategy makes the film even more of a stylistic jumble.

    NPR Full Review
  • John Anderson

    Even as Cecil lives his life slightly adjacent to history, building a heroic film around him requires herculean effort.

    Washington Post Full Review
  • Mick LaSalle

    A nice idea for a movie, but has a mostly silly script and some of the craziest and most laughable casting imaginable. But the movie's main challenge is a simple one: It is very difficult, next to impossible, to build a movie around an inert, inactive character.

    San Francisco Chronicle Full Review
  • Nathan Rabin

    Instead of committing wholeheartedly to telling the story of a single family, Daniels gets distracted trying to tell the story of our nation’s complicated racial history.

    The Dissolve Full Review
  • Katy Rich

    A great film about the American civil rights movement is way overdue. The Butler, overwhelmed by flash and good intentions, doesn't even come close.

    The Guardian Full Review
Add Soundtrack
  • 1. Piano Concerto in A Minor Op. 54-1 Performer: The Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra Stream Music Online
  • 7. Variations for Piano on Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman, K. 265 Performer: Walter Klien, piano Stream Music Online
  • 18. Rondo No. 2 In C Major for Violin and Orchestra, K.373 Allegretto Grazioso Performer: Royal Festival Orchestra, Conducted by William Bowles Stream Music Online
  • 20. 1. Praeludium [Partita No. 1 in B Flat, BWV 825] Performer: Maria João Pires Stream Music Online

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  • white house

  • butler

  • biography

  • civil rights

  • president

  • hotel

  • domestic servant

  • civil rights movement

  • u.s. president

  • locked in jail

  • grave side ceremony

  • 21 gun salute

  • flag draped coffin

  • killed in vietnam

  • black power

  • black panther

  • no opening credits

  • ku klux klan

  • 1950s

  • tie clip

  • holy bible

  • year 2008

  • bugler

  • birthday cake

  • gift wrapped birthday present

  • reference to j. edgar hoover

  • throwing son out of house

  • reference to sidney poitier

  • reference to john lewis

  • sewing machine

  • bombing

  • martin luther king assassination

  • bloody sunday

  • house negro

  • constipation

  • reference to uncle tom

  • president sitting on a toilet

  • james brown imitation

  • state dinner

  • party

  • 125 pairs of shoes

  • playing poker

  • home aquarium

  • burning a bus

  • first lady crying

  • man crying

  • presidential speech

  • clothes hanger

  • archival footage

  • german shepherd

  • molotov cocktail

  • lying on the floor

  • riding a bus

  • burning cross

  • reference to martin luther king jr.

  • woman carrying a baby

  • year 1961

  • drinking fountain

  • segregation

  • scalded

  • drink thrown in face

  • spitting in face

  • gold flatware

  • setting a table

  • reference to mahatma gandhi

  • lunch counter

  • plate of cookies

  • oil painting

  • startled

  • dirty joke

  • louis xiii cognac

  • man wearing a tuxedo

  • handshake

  • working in the white house

  • portrait of george washington

  • man wearing white gloves

  • year 1957

  • waiter

  • martini

  • bandaging a wound

  • cut hand

  • breaking a store window

  • stealing food

  • hungry

  • caught in the rain

  • gold pocket watch

  • tear on cheek

  • seeing father murdered

  • murdering a slave

  • raping a slave

  • camera

  • cotton field

  • macon georgia

  • year 1926

  • begins with martin luther king jr. quotation

  • racial violence

  • racial tension

  • racial discrimination

  • racial prejudice

  • race relations

  • progressivism

  • propaganda film

  • liberal propaganda

  • race baiting

  • revisionist history

  • american president

  • bechdel test failed

  • no title at beginning

  • multiple time frames

  • white gloves

  • tuxedo

  • two word title

  • voice over narration

  • death of wife

  • apartheid

  • reference to malcolm x

  • freedom bus

  • prison

  • selma alabama

  • birmingham alabama

  • nashville tennessee

  • washington d.c.

  • drinking problem

  • breaking and entering

  • cotton plantation

  • rape

  • n word

  • military funeral

  • vietnam war

  • kennedy assassination

  • 2008 presidential election

  • reference to barack obama

  • student activist

  • estranged son

  • funeral

  • freedom rider

  • protest

  • prejudice

  • riot

  • sit in

  • activism

  • black panther party

  • injustice

  • racism

  • 1980s

  • 1970s

  • 1960s

  • father son relationship

  • marriage

  • african american

  • based on newspaper article

  • death of son

  • death of father

  • based on true story