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Lee Daniel's the Butler: 4/5

Lee Daniel's The Butler gives life to an era for African-Americans from the American south in the 1920's  to the election of Barrack Obama from the perspective of Cecil (Forest Whitaker) - a White House butler, his family and their friends. The movie is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, the White House butler.

This is an emotional roller coaster of a film, from the horror of the first scene where a young Cecil is witness to the rape of his mother (Mariah Carey) and the murder of his father at the hands of the plantation owner. The mood quickly changes as Anna Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave) the lady of the house, provides Cecil with his first break by training him to be a house boy.

At times this is a upstairs downstairs movie, where the black cast are the impoverished servants, and the white men are the rulers. However, the movie is so much more than that. It is the juxtaposition of the formality, stability and power of the White House in contrast to the horror, violence and struggle that unfolds during the multitude of civil right atrocities that affect Cecil's family which makes this Lee Daniel's The Butler work.

Daniel's treatment of the US presidents as charactures was either deliberate or week casting. Whatever the reason, it detracted from the power of the film. Robin Williams portrays President Dwight Eisenhower, but the audience keeps expecting Williams to crack a joke. Then there is LBJ (Liev Schreiber) who does a command performance on the toilet, or Nixon (John Cusask) handing out campaign buttons to the White House staff. It is heavy handed and ill-conceived.

The movie resonates with award winning performances by Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker, Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Gooding JR, David Oyelowo, and the entire black cast. They are authentic and rich.

Lee Daniel's The Butler will undoubtedly be up for several Academy and Golden Awards. My bet is on David Oyleowo for best supporting actor.