Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Blu-ray Review)

The Butler - www.whysoblu.comThe Butler tells the story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man’s life and family. Forest Whitaker stars as the butler with Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more. Academy Award® nominated Lee Daniels (Precious) directs and co-wrote the script with Emmy®-award winning Danny Strong (Game Change).

The Butler - www.whysoblu.com


Director Lee Daniels (Precious, The Paperboy) has returned to the director’s chair with his latest film: The Butler. An article written by Will Haygood entitled “A Butler Well Served by This Election inspired The Butler.” That article told the tale of the man Forrest Whitaker would play in the Lee Daniels’ adaptation. The Butler carries the “inspired by” title as opposed to the “based on a true story” moniker. The Butler opens with a young boy named Cecil Gaines, who along with his parents, work the cotton fields down in Georgia. Young Cecil witnesses his mother being taken away by the white owner, Thomas Westfall (Alex Pettyfer), of the land and property to be raped and then sees his father get executed before his eyes when he tries to question Thomas about the incident.

Thomas’s grandmother, Annabeth Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave) sees Cecil in despair and decides to take him in and make him part of the crew that works inside the main home. It’s inside the home that Cecil is taught the rules of etiquette and proper service. Years pass and Cecil is now a young man who knows that his days are numbered. Annabeth knows this and lets him runaway while Thomas is preoccupied. His leaving the home sets up a chain of events that culminate with Cecil being taken in by a sympathetic gentleman (Clarence Williams III) who let’s him continue to hone his skills as a server while giving him an “unofficial” education. This time frame extends from the 1920’s well into the 1950’s. Cecil, now a man (Forrest Whitaker), is essentially scouted by the person in charge of hiring the employees that work at the White House while serving for a luxury hotel.

At home, Cecil is married to Gloria  (Oprah Winfrey) and has two sons. At work, and during his “rookie year” so to speak, he is under the Eisenhower administration. Dwight D. Eisenhower is played by Robin Williams, who I couldn’t help notice looked more like Harry Truman. During his stay at the White House Cecil befriends some of the other staff; Carter Wilson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and James Holloway (Lenny Kravitz). Aside from Cecil being one of the few African American servers working at the White House – The Butler also revolves around the turbulent times of the Civil Rights movement during each administration that Cecil was a part of.

Personally, I thought The Butler was terrific and no, it didn’t hit me over the head with any kind of preachy or melodramatic message. You see who the good and bad guys are and you also see who the two-faced folks are. I also was not taken out of the film by the choice of actors used to depict the various POTUS’. John Cusack played Richard Nixon, James Marsden played John Kennedy, Liev Schrieber played Lyndon B. Johnson, and Alan Rickman played Ronald Reagan. They were great in their roles. It’s not traditional casting where they went after who looks more like the Presidents(s) so much as it was getting the best person for the job. It reminded me of Frost/Nixon where Frank Langella played Richard Nixon, looking nothing like Nixon, and totally killing it. That film is a masterpiece. Same thing with The Butler in terms of casting . You cast whomever you decide to cast and then you make it work with whom you’ve got.

I will say that the subject matter does not hold back in its depiction of racism against African Americans throughout the many decades depicted in the film. The Butler spans 80 years right up to the election of Barack Obama. There are lots of side stories covered in between Cecil serving at the White House, like segregation, MLK’s assignation, the KKK and bus bombings, the Black Panthers, etc. The film runs over two hours and never feels bloated or excessive.  I’m sure The Butler had many embellishments but in overall context it works, because the film is well made and you have a great cast that ensures that it works. The Butler is my first Lee Daniels film and he’s more than competent behind the camera. I’ll need to visit Precious and The Paperboy next. Forrest Whitaker is the true highlight of the film and he really nails it out of the park. The Butler is recommended.


The Butler - www.whysoblu.com


The Butler is presented in 1080p, 1.85:1 widescreen. The Butler spans through many decades and so does the rich and vibrant color palette. Colors are very bold and bright. Flesh tones are natural and stable. Crush is kept in check but the Blu-ray did have a few instances of softness. It was nothing major but it was also something that could not be ignored. Contrast and sharpness levels were on point as was the absence of video noise. This Blu-ray video presentation was more than “just okay” but definitely not reference quality.

The Butler - www.whysoblu.com


The Butler is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless surround sound. This Blu-ray soundtrack really kicks it up a notch in terms of audio quality. Dialogue is crystal clear as it is primarily a dialogue driven film, with a few scenes of action violence. Those scenes that are dialogue heavy sound rich and crisp and those scenes of action and violence sound very realistic. The ambiance in the rear channels of the mix give it that extra punch of depth along with the low rumble of the subwoofer channel. Again, for a somewhat talk-heavy film – this soundtrack is a tad more robust than one would expect. Kudos to the sound department!

The Butler - www.whysoblu.com


Extra, extra! The extras on this Blu-ray are all presented in HD and are composed of deleted scenes, a featurette disguised as  a documentary, a gag reel, short Freedom Riders’ profile, and a recording session overview with Gladys Night and Lenny Kravitz. It’s real basic stuff but the deleted scenes/alternate takes is the best feature in this supplemental package.

  • Lee Daniels’ The Butler: An American Story (HD)
  •  The Original Freedom Riders (HD)
  • Deleted Scenes (HD)
  • “You And I Ain’t Nothin’ No More Performed by Gladys Night and Lenny Kravitz (HD)
  • Gag Reel (HD)

The Butler - www.whysoblu.com


The Butler was a surprisingly good film. It never felt heavy handed and regardless of what some are saying about it it doesn’t cater to “liberal” politics or whatever.  Forrest Whitaker gives a great performance as does Oprah. Actually, everyone in their respective roles give great performances. The Blu-ray itself looks good and sounds great. The supplement section is a tad light but having all the features presented in HD certainly helps a little. I would recommend The Butler for rent or purchase.

Order Lee Daniels’ The Butler on Blu-ray!
The Butler - www.whysoblu.com

1 Response to “Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Brian White

    Ha! Kori and I were just talking about The Paperboy last night.