“The Butler” Rating: 8
The movie is good. It brings out a myriad of emotions, particularly in regards to the civil rights abuses of the 1950’s 60’s era. Forrest Whitaker is likely to become the second black actor to win two Academy Awards. He deftly plays the role of Cecil Gaines, spanning 34 years as the White House butler under eight presidents, based on the real-life story of Eugene Allen, who retired when serving under Ronald Reagan.
The problem with the movie is the over-fictionalizing of historical details which hurts the credibility of the writers and the movie itself. A movie of this historical magnitude, in which so many of the viewers will have lived through the eras of cold war, Viet Nam, civil rights disturbances, political uprisings, assassinations, and such, leave one to count up the “gotchas.”
For example, The Butler is in the White House consoling Jackie Kennedy later in the same day that her husband had been shot. Her pink suit outfit is stained with blood as she sits in a trance. Problem: Jackie Kennedy was in Dallas, not Washington when this would have occurred.
In some of the early scenes in the mid-1950’s the waving flags had 50 stars, which was inaccurate for those years. (picky picky)
What was most disappointing was to learn that Forest Whitaker’s true life character did not have a son who was in the Black Panthers nor was he an anti-war protester, and that his son never died in Viet Nam. In fact, his only son served honorably in Nam.
I suppose we could say that Oprah Winfrey is a good actress and played her role as Whitaker’s alcoholic cheating wife very well, even though all the research tells me that element was also fictional. The problem I had with Oprah, was Oprah herself. Her stature and omnipresence on television scene for thirty years in our homes, and becoming the wealthiest woman in entertainment gave me a hard time seeing her as anyone but Oprah. It would be like imagining Donald Trump as anyone but Donald Trump.
It would have been better if the producers had looked for actors that made us believe we were seeing Eisenhower (Robin Williams), Nixon (John Cusack) and Kennedy (James Marsden who looked more like a college sophomore). The big names may be a draw, but they do not fulfill the characters as we all remember them.
The one colossal flaw in the picture comes near the end, as a female aide counsels Reagan during a White House meeting, pleading with him not to lift sanctions against South Africa as it would prolong apartheid. During the scene, Reagan stoically and without explanation, refuses her request three times, bluntly, no dialogue. This makes Reagan appear as a pro-apartheid republican and a quasi-racist. In fact, as history records it, this particular period was crucial in the cold war issues and all the negotiations and conflicts that ultimately led to the fall of communism in the USSR. The story goes, Reagan was opposed to apartheid, but there was a conflicting issue pending at the time, that the sanctions would have had an impact on the cold war. It was all about geopolitics. But the movie leaves the viewer with a different slant, which was wrong to do. It thrust the movie into a political statement. The scene, frankly, could have been left out entirely, because it was basically useless to the story, and meant only to wrongly portray the president.
If anyone has ever studied the life of Ronald Reagan, they know he was not a racist.
That said, I leave Jane Fonda’s controversial portrayal of Nancy Reagan to last. I feel very much like many Americans, outraged at Jane Fonda’s actions consorting with the enemy in the middle of the war, when our soldiers were under fire and being held in POW camps. I can totally understand why people are remaining at home from this movie. But I like major movies, and I wasn’t going to let Fonda get in my way. However, the anger remains, within me and most Americans of that era. While Jane Fonda has apologized for her actions, it seems disingenuous that she would wear a “Hanoi Jane” tee-short during a recent television interview promoting the movie, as a statement – “in your face.” Shameful.
In truth, Fonda played in one White House scene and had enough dialogue, perhaps, to fill one page of the movie script. I wouldn’t miss the whole picture because of one scene.
The movie ends with joyous elation over the election of Barack Obama. In terms of minority advancement, I get it. It was fitting. It just saddens me that the first black president was Barack Obama. But that’s another story.
Look for several Oscar nominations, some deserved, some not.
Here’s a video of Jane Fonda’s interview, wearing the tee- shirt: