Silver Screen: The Butler ****

Silver Screen: The Butler  ****
More Articles
Silver Screen: Confidence Man: The Hugh DeNeal Story Is Stranger than Fiction
Silver Screen: Hereafter *
Silver Screen: Machete **
Silver Screen: Saw VII 3D Zero Stars
Silver Screen: Takers *1/2
Silver Screen: 127 Hours ****
Silver Screen: 21 Jump Street ***
Silver Screen: A Good Day to Die Hard *
Silver Screen: A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas ***
Silver Screen: Admission ***1/2
Silver Screen: After Earth *
Silver Screen: American Reunion **1/2
Silver Screen: Argo **1/2
Silver Screen: Bad Teacher ***
Silver Screen: Battle: Los Angeles **
Silver Screen: Battleship *
Silver Screen: Beautiful Creatures *1/2
Silver Screen: Before Midnight ****1/2
Silver Screen: Bernie ****
Big Muddy Film Festival 2013: Thirty Five Years Of Celebrating Cinema
Big Muddy Film Festival 33
Silver Screen: Black Swan ****
Silver Screen: Blue Jasmine ****1/2
Silver Screen: Blue Valentine ****
Silver Screen: Brave ***
Silver Screen: Breaking Dawn Part I *1/2
Silver Screen: Bridesmaids ****
Silver Screen: Broken City ***
Silver Screen: Bully **
Silver Screen: Captain America **
Silver Screen: Cars II *1/2
Silver Screen: Case Thirty-nine *
Silver Screen: Cedar Rapids ****
Silver Screen: Charlie Saint Cloud **
Silver Screen: Chernobyl Diaries *
Silver Screen: Chronicle ****
Silver Screen: Cloud Atlas ***
Silver Screen: Contagion ****1/2
Silver Screen: Contraband *
Silver Screen: Cowboys & Aliens ***
Silver Screen: Crazy, Stupid, Love **
Silver Screen: Dark Shadows *1/2
Silver Screen: Dark Skies **1/2
Silver Screen: David Wong’s John Dies at the End: A Local Author Sees His Novel Hit the Big Screen
Silver Screen: Dead Man Down 1/2*
Silver Screen: Despicable Me **1/2
Silver Screen: Despicable Me II ***1/2
Silver Screen: Devil ***
Silver Screen: Dinner for Schmucks *1/2
Silver Screen: Director Rusty Nails Presents... Dead On: The Life and Cinema of George A. Romero
Silver Screen: Django Unchained ****1/2
Silver Screen: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark **
Silver Screen: Dream House *1/2
Silver Screen: Dredd 3D *1/2
Silver Screen: Drive ****1/2
Silver Screen: Drive Angry 3D **1/2
Silver Screen: Due Date ***1/2
Silver Screen: Easy A ***1/2
Silver Screen: Eat Pray Love ***
Silver Screen: Elysium **
Silver Screen: End of Watch ****
Silver Screen: Evil Dead ***
Silver Screen: Fast and Furious VI **
Silver Screen: Fast Five **1/2
Silver Screen: Faster **1/2
Silver Screen: Fifty/Fifty ****
Silver Screen: Final Destination V **
Silver Screen: Flight ****
Silver Screen: Forty-two ***1/2
Silver Screen: Frances Ha ****1/2
Silver Screen: Friends with Benefits **
Silver Screen: Fright Night ***
Silver Screen: Fruitvale Station ****
Silver Screen: G.I. Joe: Retaliation *
Silver Screen: Gangster Squad *1/2
Silver Screen: Get Him to the Greek ***
Silver Screen: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 1/2*
Silver Screen: Going the Distance ***
Silver Screen: Gone **1/2
Silver Screen: Green Lantern *1/2
Silver Screen: Grown Ups *
Silver Screen: Grown Ups II zero stars
Silver Screen: Hall Pass *1/2
Silver Screen: Hanna ****
Silver Screen: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II ****
Silver Screen: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I ***
Silver Screen: Haywire ***1/2
Silver Screen: Hit and Run ***
Silver Screen: Hope Springs ***1/2
Silver Screen: Horrible Bosses **1/2
Silver Screen: House at the End of the Street *
Silver Screen: How Do You Know ***
Silver Screen: I Am Number Four *
Silver Screen: Identity Thief ***
Silver Screen: In Time **1/2
Silver Screen: Inception ****1/2
Silver Screen: Insidious ***1/2
Silver Screen: Iron Man III **1/2
Silver Screen: J. Edgar **
Silver Screen: Jack and Jill 1/2*
Silver Screen: Jack Reacher ***
Silver Screen: Jackass 3D **1/2
Silver Screen: Jeff, Who Lives at Home ***1/2
Silver Screen: Jobs **
Silver Screen: Jonah Hex *
Silver Screen: Josh Hyde’s Postcards and Love Letters
Silver Screen: Just Go with It *
Silver Screen: Kick-Ass II zero stars
Silver Screen: Killer Elite **
Silver Screen: Killer Elite **
Silver Screen: Killing Them Softly **1/2
Silver Screen: Knight and Day *1/2
Silver Screen: Kung Fu Panda II ***
Silver Screen: Larry Crowne *1/2
Silver Screen: Lawless ****
Silver Screen: Let Me In ***
Silver Screen: Life as We Know It *1/2
Silver Screen: Life of Pi **1/2
Silver Screen: Limitless ***
Silver Screen: Lincoln ****
Silver Screen: Lockout **
Silver Screen: Looper ****
Silver Screen: Love and Other Drugs *1/2
Silver Screen: Mama **1/2
Silver Screen: Man of Steel *
Silver Screen: Megamind ***1/2
Silver Screen: Men in Black III *1/2
Silver Screen: Midnight in Paris ****
Silver Screen: Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol ****
Silver Screen: Moneyball ***1/2
Silver Screen: Monsters University ***
Silver Screen: Moonrise Kingdom ****1/2
Silver Screen: Movie Forty-three zero stars
Silver Screen: My Soul to Take 3D 1/2*
Silver Screen: New Year’s Eve *
Silver Screen: No Strings Attached ***
Silver Screen: Now You See Me 1/2*
Silver Screen: Oblivion ***1/2
Silver Screen: Olympus Has Fallen zero stars
Silver Screen: One Day **
Silver Screen: Our Idiot Brother ***
Silver Screen: Oz the Great and Powerful **
Silver Screen: Pacific Rim ****
Silver Screen: Pain and Gain ***
Silver Screen: Paranormal Activity II ***1/2
Silver Screen: Paranormal Activity III ***1/2
Silver Screen: Paranormal Activity IV *
Silver Screen: ParaNorman ***1/2
Silver Screen: Parker ***1/2
Silver Screen: Paul ***1/2
Silver Screen: Piranha 3D ***1/2
Silver Screen: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides *1/2
Silver Screen: Playing for Keeps 1/2*
Silver Screen: Predators ***
Silver Screen: Premium Rush ***
Silver Screen: Priest 1/2*
Silver Screen: Project X 1/2*
Silver Screen: Prometheus ***1/2
Silver Screen: Real Steel *
Silver Screen: Red ***
Silver Screen: Red Dawn *
Silver Screen: Red Tails **
Silver Screen: Resident Evil: Retribution *
Silver Screen: Rise of the Planet of the Apes ****
Silver Screen: Safe ***
Silver Screen: Safe Haven *1/2
Silver Screen: Safe House ***
Silver Screen: Salt ***
Silver Screen: Savages ***1/2
Silver Screen: Scott Pilgrim versus the World ***1/2
Silver Screen: Scream IV *
Silver Screen: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World **1/2
Silver Screen: Seven Psychopaths ***1/2
Silver Screen: Sex and the City II 1/2*
Silver Screen: Shaft and Coffy: Novotny Lawrence Discusses the Blaxploitation Movement
Silver Screen: Shark Night 3D 1/2* -- Apollo 18 **
Silver Screen: Side Effects ****1/2
Silver Screen: Silent House **1/2
Silver Screen: Silver Linings Playbook ***1/2
Silver Screen: Sinister ***1/2
Silver Screen: Skyfall ****
Silver Screen: Skyline *
Silver Screen: Snitch ***
Silver Screen: Snow White and the Huntsman **1/2
Silver Screen: Soldiers Speak Out: Carbondale Oscar Winner Barb Trent’s Latest Film
Silver Screen: Something Borrowed *
Silver Screen: Source Code ****1/2
Silver Screen: Splice ****
Silver Screen: Star Trek into Darkness ****
Silver Screen: Straw Dogs *1/2
Silver Screen: Straw Dogs *1/2
Silver Screen: Super Eight ****
Silver Screen: Taken II **
Silver Screen: Ted ***1/2
Silver Screen: That's My Boy *
Silver Screen: The A-Team **1/2
Silver Screen: The Academy Honors... The Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale
Silver Screen: The Adjustment Bureau *1/2
Silver Screen: The Amazing Spider-Man **1/2
Silver Screen: The American ****
Silver Screen: The Artist ****
Silver Screen: The Audubon Trilogy: Fugitive Narratives and the Drama of the Natural World
Silver Screen: The Avengers ****
Silver Screen: The Big Muddy Film Festival
Silver Screen: The Big Wedding *
Silver Screen: The Big Year *1/2
Silver Screen: The Bourne Legacy ***
Silver Screen: The Boys and Girls Club Night at the Oscars
Silver Screen: The Call **1/2
Silver Screen: The Campaign ***
Silver Screen: The Company You Keep *1/2
Silver Screen: The Conjuring ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Dark Knight Rises ***
Silver Screen: The Debt ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Descendants ****1/2
Silver Screen: The Dictator ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Dilemma *1/2
Silver Screen: The Expendables **1/2
Silver Screen: The Expendables II *1/2
Silver Screen: The Fighter ****
Silver Screen: The Five-Year Engagement ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo *
Silver Screen: The Great Gatsby ****
Silver Screen: The Green Hornet **1/2
Silver Screen: The Guilt Trip ***
Silver Screen: The Hangover Part II **1/2
Silver Screen: The Hangover Part III *1/2
Silver Screen: The Heat **1/2
Silver Screen: The Host 1/2*
Silver Screen: The Hunger Games ***
Silver Screen: The Ides of March ****
Silver Screen: The Internship **1/2
Silver Screen: The Karate Kid ***
Silver Screen: The Karate Kid ***
Silver Screen: The King's Speech ****
Silver Screen: The Last Airbender *
Silver Screen: The Last Exorcism ***
Silver Screen: The Last Stand ***
Silver Screen: The Lincoln Lawyer ***
Silver Screen: The Lone Ranger ***
Silver Screen: The Lucky One *1/2
Silver Screen: The Man with the Iron Fists **1/2
Silver Screen: The Master ****1/2
Silver Screen: The Mechanic **1/2
Silver Screen: The Next Three Days ***
Silver Screen: The Other Guys ***
Silver Screen: The Perks of Being a Wallflower ****
Silver Screen: The Place Beyond the Pines ****1/2
Silver Screen: The Possession *
Silver Screen: The Purge *
Silver Screen: The Raven *
Silver Screen: The Rite *
Silver Screen: The Roommate *1/2
Silver Screen: The Rum Diary ***
Silver Screen: The Score Card , February 24, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card , February 3, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card , March 31, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card , September 16, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card , September 23, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card , September 30, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card August 19, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card August 26, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card August 5, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card July 8, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card September 2, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card September 9, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 11, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 12, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 14, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 18, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 19, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 21, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 25, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 26, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 28, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 4, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 5, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 7, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 1, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 15, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 16, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 19, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 2, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 22, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 23 , 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 25, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 29, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 30, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 4, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 1, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 13, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 15, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 16, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 2, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 6, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 8, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 9, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 10, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 14, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 16, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 17, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 2, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 21, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 23, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 28, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 7, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, February 9, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 11, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 12, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 13, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 17, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 19, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 20, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 24, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 26, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 27, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, January 31, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, January March 21 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 11, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 12 , 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 12 , 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 14, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 18, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 19, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 21, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 25, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 26 , 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 28, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 3, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 7, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 13, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 16, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 20, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 21, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 23, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 27, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 28, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 30, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 6, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 6, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 7, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 9, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 1, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 10, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 22, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 24, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 28, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 29, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 3, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 7, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 8, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 10, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 11, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 12, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 17, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 19, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 2, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 23, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 24, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 26, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 3, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 30, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 5, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 1, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 10, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 11, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 15, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 17, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 18, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 29, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 3, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 4, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, November 8, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 06, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 11, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 14, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 18, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 20, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 21, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 25, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 27, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 28, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 4 , 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, October 7, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 01, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 13, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 15, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 20, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 22, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 27, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 29, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 5, 2013 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 6, 2012 Edition
Silver Screen: The Score Card, September 8, 2011 Edition
Silver Screen: The Scorecard July 01, 2020 Edition
Silver Screen: The Scorecard July 15, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Scorecard July 22, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Scorecard July 29, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Scorecard June 10, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Scorecard June 17, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Scorecard June 24, 2010 Edition
Silver Screen: The Sitter ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Social Network ****1/2
Silver Screen: The Sorcerer's Apprentice **
Silver Screen: The Thing **1/2
Silver Screen: The Three Stooges ***
Silver Screen: The Tourist **
Silver Screen: The Town ***1/2
Silver Screen: The Tree of Life *****
Silver Screen: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse *1/2
Silver Screen: The Vow **
Silver Screen: The Watch **
Silver Screen: The Way Way Back ****
Silver Screen: The Wolverine *1/2
Silver Screen: The Woman in Black **
Silver Screen: The Words 1/2*
Silver Screen: The World’s End ****
Silver Screen: Thirty Minutes or Less ***1/2
Silver Screen: This Is Forty ****
Silver Screen: This Is The End ***1/2
Silver Screen: Thor ***
Silver Screen: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ***1/2
Silver Screen: To Rome with Love ***1/2
Silver Screen: Total Recall **1/2
Silver Screen: Tower Heist ***
Silver Screen: Toy Story III ****
Silver Screen: Transformers: Dark of the Moon *1/2
Silver Screen: True Grit ****1/2
Silver Screen: Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II *
Silver Screen: Two Guns ***
Silver Screen: Unknown ***
Silver Screen: Unstoppable **
Silver Screen: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps ****
Silver Screen: Wanderlust ***1/2
Silver Screen: War Horse **
Silver Screen: Water for Elephants ***
Silver Screen: We Bought a Zoo ****
Silver Screen: White House Down ***
Silver Screen: World War Z **
Silver Screen: Wrath of the Titans 1/2*
Silver Screen: Wreck-it Ralph ***1/2
Silver Screen: X-Men: First Class ***
Silver Screen: Your Highness ***1/2
Silver Screen: You’re Next **1/2
Silver Screen: Zero Dark Thirty ****1/2
Silver Screen: Zookeeper *


Who:
What:
Where:
When:
You can’t fault Lee Daniels’s The Butler for lack of ambition. During the course of a little more th
Bryan Miller

You can’t fault Lee Daniels’s The Butler for lack of ambition. During the course of a little more than two hours, the movie attempts to encapsulate the entire lifespan of an octogenarian, the totality of the civil-rights movement, and five presidential administrations. If that seems like a little too much to chew on in one sitting, well, it is. But despite a divided focus and flashes of overwhelming sentimentality, The Butler manages to overcome its excesses to be affecting and nuanced in between its broad historical strokes.

We first meet the butler of the title, Cecil Gaines, as a child, which is part of the problem. Rather than using some combination of exposition and flashback, Daniels begins pretty literally at the beginning, with Cecil’s tragic childhood. Two different actors portray Cecil at a young age as his mother is raped, his father is murdered, and the boy is trained as a household servant. Young Cecil flees the farmhouse and in his destitution nearly falls into a life of crime before an older man (the great Clarence Williams III) takes him in and gives him formal training as a butler. These early scenes are redolent with pathos, but the events move so quickly and the faces change so rapidly, there’s a disconnect between the melodrama of the story and what should be its emotional impact.

The film finds its footing when Forest Whitaker takes over the role of Gaines. His gravitas grounds the movie whenever it threatens to drift away, and despite the movie’s surfeit of talented performers and historical characters, he’s never upstaged for a single second. Whitaker’s presence settles the movie into a more comfortable rhythm as Cecil lands a coveted job as a personal servant to the President of the United States. He’s fiercely proud of his work at the White House, although the novelty is eventually lost on his neglected wife (Oprah Winfrey) and his oldest son Louis (David Oyelowo).

Cecil is mostly on the sidelines during the civil-rights battle, working throughout the 1960s and 1970s inside the bubble of the White House with his fellow domestic staffers (Lenny Kravitz and Cuba Gooding Jr., both excellent in strong supporting roles). Cecil’s seeming obliviousness to the struggle rankles his increasingly militant son, who joins the Freedom Riders and eventually the Black Panthers as he fights on the front lines for social justice. Though it takes awhile to establish, this conflict is the core of The Butler, and the movie is at its sharpest when directly dealing with it.

During its weaker moments The Butler plays like a historical highlight reel. If Martin Luther King Jr. (Nelsan Ellis) makes an appearance in your story that can be described as brief and unremarkable, you’re moving too fast. There’s an abundance of fascinating material here, but Daniels’s unwillingness to sacrifice any of it drains some of the story’s power and distracts from its central storyline.

It’s all but impossible not to rank The Butler’s depictions of the presidents--the film practically begs for it with its stunt casting. So why resist? Here it goes:

James Marsden comes out on top with his fairly impressive John F. Kennedy impersonation. He has the right look, but it’s not overemphasized, as is the case with Minka Kelly as Jackie. It doesn’t hurt that the script treats the Kennedys as characters, whereas the rest of the presidents are rendered in varying degrees of caricature. Lyndon B. Johnson, played by Liev Schreiber, is basically a living conglomeration of LBJ trivia. He shouts and curses incessantly, barks orders from atop the toilet, and lacks grace even by the standards of a Texan. But Schreiber does an uncanny riff on him that manages to breathe a little life into what’s otherwise a cardboard cutout of a world leader. The same problem plagues Alan Rickman’s Ronald Reagan, but aside from a more-than-expected physical resemblance Rickman doesn’t bring as much credibility in his few scenes. Robin Williams barely even registers in his fleeting few seconds of screentime as Dwight Eisenhower, but that’s better at least than John Cusack’s embarrassing Richard Nixon, which would be underbaked even for a MAD TV sketch. Ford and Carter get skipped over altogether in a musical montage, but it’s fun to mentally cast the roles anyway. My vote goes to J.K Simmons as Ford and Bob Odenkirk as Carter.

Cecil may be expected to keep his political opinions to himself, but the movie makes little effort to hide its political slant. Screenwriter Danny Strong has more than earned his lefty street cred in a pair of HBO original movies, including Recount, which criticized the process of the 2000 election that put George W. Bush in office, and the adaptation of John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s Game Change, an unflattering look at Sarah Palin’s influence on the McCain campaign in 2008. Strong tows the liberal line in his interpretation of the presidents, lionizing Kennedy while depicting Nixon as a cartoon crook only slightly more complex than Snidely Whiplash.

The movie’s take on Reagan has the most complexity. Despite the stick-it-to-you casting of Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan, Mr. and Mrs. Gipper are portrayed as personable, considerate people. Yet Ronnie’s sweetly paternal attitude is undercut by his regressive attitude toward South African Apartheid. The movie smartly highlights this disjunction between his affable demeanor and his monstrous policies, some of which are enumerated by Louis in a brief but damning speech.

It’s a shame the screenplay doesn’t allow for the same complex view of Nixon, who is in many ways Reagan’s inverse, a personally despicable individual whose policies were in many cases more progressive than many might think. Not that that would matter for right wingers and Tea Party types, who will surely be chucking their star-spangled tophats and flag pins at the screen by the time the film launches into its superfluous Yes We Can epilogue, where Barack Obama is treated with the same giddy approval as a Tiger Beat cover model.

It’s not terribly subtle, but subtlety isn’t one of Daniels’s defining traits. This extends far beyond The Butler’s depictions of the presidents. Daniels never seems to trust his audience to understand his message, no matter how obvious or clearly expressed. There are a dozen examples in the movie, but none so indicative as the closing title card, which states that the movie is dedicated to the men and women who fought for the civil-rights movement-- as if after more than two hours of a movie that sometimes powerfully depicts their struggles viewers might not realize that. Similarly, Cecil’s relentless voiceover constantly restates the meaning of every scene and twist, diminishing the power of some of the more artfully constructed sequences.

But despite its frequent heavy-handedness, The Butler smartly articulates some difficult, contradictory truths about the civil-rights battle. Daniels makes a strong case that different, sometimes seemingly opposing approaches were necessary for progress. Cecil’s revolution is quieter and more polite, while Louis’s is a very public, active struggle. The film finds the nuances of each man’s position; Cecil is often disgusted and sometimes diminished by the attitudes and ideas he sees at work every day, while an increasingly savvy Louis sees the danger in a totally radicalized movement. It’s truly impressive that Daniels and Strong are able to elaborate on the nobility of a more patient, passive kind of resistance without ever devaluing the brave and utterly necessary actions of the younger, more zealous activists. It’s much easier to craft a dramatic narrative out of sit-ins, protests, and riots than to make a compelling story out of a man’s humble servitude. The Butler rises to the challenge, not just finding a harmony between the two very different forms of resistance but establishing their mutual interdependence.

Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.