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'The Butler' 'serves' history to viewers

By Mark Sarll Jr.
On March 2, 2014

  • Siarre Evans, this week's A-Sun Player of the Week, crosses over in a game last year. The Lady Bucs are tied for first place in the A-Sun with Jacksonville. Travis Brown /East Tennessean

Lee Daniels' "The Butler," while taking liberties from the original source, is a commendable effort as a whole with Forest Whitaker's arresting performance as a subtle, understated White House butler in a more grounded light.
"The Butler" stands as a testament to race- and history-oriented films that do not dwell on fantasy.
The film reflects much of the butler's years working since childhood to an elderly age and it reflects his life in motion with his alcoholic, disenchanted wife (Oprah Winfrey), his rebellious son who joins the Black Panthers and demonstrates at sit-ins (David Oyelowo), and his youngest, questioning son who goes to Vietnam (Elijah Kelley).
It was interesting to watch this fictionalized persona, Cecil Gaines (Whitaker), based on the real-life Eugene Allen, play it so good-to-the-bone that there is an inner sadness and melancholy in his character. Amid the rebellion and negligence, he still remains strong-minded and has a good will, something that is relatively important for audiences to watch and discover.
The film also gets even better with some comic relief provided by Cuba Gooding Jr. and musician Lenny Kravitz who both played White House servers as well as Terrence Howard playing a smarmy, perverted neighbor.
In addition, the cameos shown in the film may be stereotypical, but it is relatively humanizing and interesting to watch Liev Schreiber playing a cantankerous Lyndon B. Johnson and Alan Rickman playing Ronald Reagan.
Much of the set designs, cinematography and editing are well done within the constraints of the budget. Unfortunately, the film suffers a bit with a slightly simplistic narrative.
There is also a missing scene in the trailer involving Black Panthers shooting at the police.
The film's PG-13 rating restrained from showing some of the horrors and carnage of both whites and blacks amid segregation.
The film ended vaguely and controversially. While a political piece, it could've been better.
As a film, it was satisfying and it didn't falter in the cracks like Oliver Stone's "W." or "Dr. Strangelove" - both are largely political satires meshed with oblique and rather dull narratives.
Many young people will be able to understand its themes and ideas without being bored by the history of it all, especially with the rebellious son and his struggle to develop his identity.
Without remorse, the film is tough material, but it is important on several levels.
Unfortunately, the state of affairs today is a result of much chaos, whether it is identity, race, economic status, culture or labor.
For many people of minority who watch the film, a lot of questions will be raised which may lead to either doubt or hope for the future. Although for now, it is an uncertain one.

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