First, Lee Daniel's The Butler was not what I expected at all. The trailers led one to believe this was the story of a Georgia field hand who rose to serve eight presidents in the White House - a story of someone who saw our country from eyes of its leaders simply by his almost silent service. But, alas, that is not the story line at all. Rather, Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker) is used as a vehicle to show the civil rights movement from the cotton fields in Georgia to Selma Alabama and the Freedom Riders to apartheid in South Africa. And yet, Cecil himself, it reticent about the movement himself.
I would say a good half of the movie deals with actual footage from the civil rights movement and the story line of Cecil's oldest son Louis' (played by David Oyelowo) participation in the fight for equal rights among all people in the United States. Oh, yes, there is plenty of the story of Cecil in the White House serving the presidents and seeing history being made. But the movie is really the juxtaposition between the generations of the race.
Oprah Winfrey plays Cecil's wife Gloria, who has to share her husband's attention with his dedication to his job. She is devoted to her man, protective of her children but is a tortured soul. And, it is almost worth going to the movie to see the cast of presidents, Eisenhower played by Robin Williams and Nixon played by John Cusak. Jane Fonda shows up as Nancy Reagan. If you look carefully you may recognize Vanessa Redgrave, Cuba Gooding, Jr, and Mariah Carey in various roles.
There was initially a lot of Oscar buzz about this film. However, when we walked out of the theater, I said to my DH, "It was a good movie, and I enjoyed it, but I did not see any Oscar material there."
The movie is two different stories, both which need to be told. However, together they make an untenable marriage. I recommend the movie, just make sure your expectations are in check.
A reviewer on IMDB said it best, "Although the movie is based on a true story, a story that is very interesting, the producers couldn't leave it alone. Instead, they tampered with it so much that they made such an interesting story, uninteresting."