Lee Daniels’ The Butler

photo for Lee Daniels' The Butler Director Lee Daniels’ career has been nothing if not eclectic, from the off-kilter hit-woman thriller “Shadowboxer” through the award-winning “Precious” through the very down-and-dirty “The Paperboy.” “The Butler” is the director’s easiest outing, a paean to the Civil Rights movement that explores desegregation and the struggle for Black equality during the course of four decades as told through the story of White House butler Eugene Allen, who served eight American presidents from 1952 to 1986. The straight-ahead melodrama follows the life story of Cecil Gaines, his wife and two sons as they deal with slavery, the Freedom Riders southern busing, assassinations, race riots, the Vietnam War, the Black Panthers and American politics. Forest Whitaker as Cecil and Oprah Winfrey as wife Gloria are outstanding; problematic are the presidential castings: John Cusack as Nixon, Liev Schreiber as L.B.J., and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan. Based on the story “A Butler Well Served by This Election” by Wil Haygood. Extras: “Lee Daniels’ The Butler: An American Story,” “The Original Freedom Riders,” “You and I Ain’t Nothin’ No More” performed by Gladys Knight and Lenny Kravitz, deleted scenes, gag reel. Vitals: Director: Lee Daniels. Stars: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Robin Williams, Danny Strong. 2013, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 132 min., Drama, Box office gross: $115.071 million, The Weinstein Co. 3 stars

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