Lee Daniels' The Butler

First slide

The personal collides with the political in this affecting fact-based drama adapted by director Lee Daniels from a 2008 Washington Post article by reporter Wil Haygood. Escaping the vicious racism of the early 20th-century Deep South, a plantation worker (Forest Whitaker) makes his way to Washington, where he eventually finds coveted employment on the domestic staff of the White House. But his patient hope that white Americans -- led by the series of presidents he works with at close hand, from Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) to Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman) -- will see the light on racial issues increasingly conflicts with the civil rights activism of his older son (David Oyelowo). And the long hours he puts in at the executive mansion leave his strong-willed but fragile wife (Oprah Winfrey) feeling neglected. Appealing performances, especially Winfrey's complex portrayal, and a surprisingly nuanced view of the various chief executives -- an irretrievably self-absorbed Richard Nixon (John Cusack) alone excepted -- keep the unfolding events from feeling like a chronological checklist of postwar history. While vulgar language and other red-flag content would normally prevent recommendation for any but grown-ups, the moral significance of this uplifting journey -- undertaken within a context of implicit religious faith and strong marital commitment -- is such that at least some parents may consider it acceptable for older teens.

Watch out for: Occasional action violence, an adultery theme, numerous mature references, a half-dozen uses of profanity, a couple of rough terms, some crude and crass language.
Rated: A-III, adults; MPAA: PG-13, parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013