'Lee Daniels' The Butler': What the Critics Are Saying

The Weinstein Co. drama, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, hits U.S. theaters on Aug. 16.

After months of anticipation, and a legal battle over the title of the film, The Weinstein Co.'s drama centering on a White House butler hits theaters this Friday. 

Starring Forest Whitaker as Cecil, the title character, and Oprah Winfrey as his wife, Gloria, Lee Daniels' The Butler traces the service of a man who worked in the executive mansion over decades. The star-studded cast also includes Mariah Carey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard and Robin Williams (as President Eisenhower) and John Cusack (as President Nixon). 

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Here's a snapshot of how reviewers responded to Lee Daniels' The Butler:

The Hollywood Reporter's chief film critic, Todd McCarthy, wrote that the "emotionally effective" drama is "always engaging, often entertaining and certainly never dull." He observed: "This is not an artful, tidy or sophisticated film, but its subject and his stationary odyssey are of such a singular nature that, as a great playwright once wrote, attention must be paid to such a person."

In a wire service review that may be widely circulated in local papers as the title hits U.S. theaters, the Associated Press critic Joceyln Noveck points to the title as necessary filmmaking. "Not all the star performances are successful," noting Robin Williams' appearance as Eisenhower. However: "Daniels and company may not have made a masterpiece, but they have made a film you should see."

The New York Times A.O. Scott, meanwhile, praised the film as "brilliantly truthful." Scott writes: "The history of repression, protest and reform did not just happen on the abstract plane of activism and politics, but also in the lives of ordinary families, who were always doing more than just suffering and struggling. The genius of The Butler lies in the sly and self-assured way it connects public affairs to private experience. "

In the U.K, The Guardian critic Katey Rich gave the film two out of five stars, writing: "A great film about the American civil rights movement is way overdue. The Butler, overwhelmed by flash and good intentions, doesn't even come close." 

New York magazine critic David Edelstein deemed the Weinstein Co. title "crudely powerful." He writes that the director "works in elegiac, Oscar-bait mode, but the actors find ways to stay raw. As Cecil, Whitaker stands outside himself. He’s so finely tuned that you can see -- or at least intuit -- the brain working (and heart breaking) under his mask." Oprah Winfrey "manages to go back in time and capture the self-loathing of a woman with no power."

The Chicago Tribune's critic Michael Phillips awarded the film two and a half out of five stars and noted the title's Forrest Gump moments. "It's up to the steady and astute performance by Forest Whitaker to keep The Butler from caving in under its own Forrest Gump sponge-of-history tendencies." Whitaker, he writes, is "first-rate in the part."

The film, which was shot in New Orleans, gets a tentative thumbs up from Mike Scott, the film critic at The Times-Picayune. "For all of its Oscar-bait hallmarks -- from its pedigreed cast to its civil rights themes -- Daniels' unevenly paced film has its share of narrative missteps," Scott writes."In addition, there's the fact that Daniels is the type of filmmaker who is more inclined to slap audiences in the face with his message … than he is to traffic in anything resembling subtlety."