Critical opinion is favorable to Whitaker and co., but Lee Daniels can't seem to catch a break.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler will only see its US-wide release tomorrow (August 16), but the film, telling the story of a White House butler, who saw eight presidents come and go during his residency, is already being praised across the internet and back.
The Butler might be patchy, but it's not bad, say critics.
For once, everyone seems to agree what’s so great about the film. The story of Cecil Gains is captivating in many ways, not least of all for its portrayal of the civil rights movement, but for Forest Whitaker in the title role, who steals the show.
The direction, provided by Lee Daniels, who was also the man behind 2009’s Precious, has received controversial reviews. “Daniels certainly tries,” claims the Washington Post and it’s certainly not a compliment. John Anderson’s review follows the halfhearted praise with a note on the film’s patchiness, saying that “the film never settles on a point of view.” There probably isn’t a 'Best Director' Oscar in this film’s future.
Oscar speculation is already underway.
While Daniels’ direction isn’t something the reviewers are impressed with, Whitaker’s portrayal of Cecil Gaines is another story entirely. The AP’s Jocelyn Noveck hails Whitaker’s performance as one of the only things that make the film work. New York magazine’s David Edelstein praises Whitaker for his “finely tuned performance”, while Daniels’ direction is pegged as “elegiac, Oscar-bait mode.” Well, if the Oscars do acknowledge this drama, it’s fairly clear which category will be its strongest.
The Butler wins over critics with its performances, rather than direction.