STAND BY ME: Whitaker and Winfrey share the screen and early awards buzz.
Blending compelling storytelling, masterful direction and astounding performances, especially from central actors Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, The Butler quite easily finds its place among the best pictures released so far this year. It is surefire awards bait.
In spinning the inspiring true story of Cecil Gaines (Whitaker), who served as a butler in the White House under some seven US Presidents, Lee Daniels deftly awakens a period of American history fraught with civil rights unrest and tense race relations, even as it zones in on the life of man who came of age on a white-owned cotton plantation before going on to make a sterling contribution to his country while raising a family.
While Whitaker gives an incredibly magnetic, pitch-perfect turn as Gaines, it is Winfrey who gives the real scene-stealing performance as Gloria, Cecil’s liquored-up wife. It’s a performance appealing in its expert balance of the dramatic and comic.
Daniels (Precious) also manages to elicit laudable work from a hefty supporting cast, most notably David Oyelowo (The Paperboy) as Gaines’ wilful son, Lewis, who joined the Black Panther Movement; and Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz, who drolly play White House servants.
By far the finest achievement of Daniels’ career, anchored by Whitaker’s most enthralling performance to date and a very well-written script by Danny Strong, The Butler delivers.