Wisely placing his name above the title, “Precious” director Lee Daniels no doubt has visions of little gold statues dancing before his eyes.
Review by David Feltman
“I know the way.”
Wisely placing his name above the title, “Precious” director Lee Daniels no doubt has visions of little gold statues dancing before his eyes. And rightly so. Daniels’ quasi-biopic brings together a staggering list of Hollywood heavy hitters for a poignant piece of American history. “The Butler” may be Oscar bait, but it’s worthy Oscar bait.
Based on the true story of Eugene Allen, Forest Whittaker stars as Cecil Gaines, a White House butler that served through eight presidential administrations. From Eisenhower (Robin Williams) to Regan (Alan Rickman), the story spans the entirety of the Civil Rights Era. Danny Strong’s script nimbly knits an engrossing family drama onto major historical backdrops. The result is occasionally saccharine, but only rarely so, as most of the emotional moments strike just the right chords.
The lighting and cinematography are beautifully executed. Daniels deftly fashions a montage sequence where Whittaker prepares dinner service for the president while his son fights to be served at a “Whites Only” lunch counter. The sequence utilizes symmetrical composition with parallel tracking shots, reinforcing the analogy between the two moments. Cinematographer Andrew Dunn captures the menace in the glow of an out-of-focus cross just as easily as he turns up the passion by silhouetting a kiss, making the visuals every bit as captivating as the story.
John Cusack’s prosthetic Nixon nose notwithstanding, the makeup effects are otherwise outstanding. Whittaker and his wife, played by Oprah Winfrey, gradually turn grey and tired, with every little wrinkle and bloodshot vein seamlessly applied. The film provides everything an Oscar hungry actor or actress could wish for, filled with meaty complex characters and an entire lifespan to flesh them out. It’s no wonder that even the smaller roles are occupied by names like Vanessa Redgrave and Terrence Howard. Award season is still several months away, but “The Butler” is going to be the picture to beat this year.