“The Butler” opened Friday to strong reviews from key critics, including an absolute love letter from New York Times scribe A.O. Scott.
This buzzed-about historical drama stars Oscar champ Forest Whitaker as the title character, who toiled backstairs at the White House for decades, and Oprah Winfrey as his wayward wife. A slew of top talent cameo as members of the various first families, including two-time Oscar champ Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan and Oscar winner Robin Williams as President Eisenhower. Oscar nominated director Lee Daniels (“Precious”) works from a script by Emmy champ Danny Strong (“Game Change”).
While the overall MetaCritic score sits at 66, several respected reviewers were enthusiastic about “The Butler.” Among those singing its praises were: Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times), Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly) and Claudia Puig (USA Today).
And the influential Scott was rapturous in his review, calling the picture: “a brilliantly truthful movie on a subject that is usually shrouded in wishful thinking, mythmongering and outright denial.” He heaped praise on both Whitaker and Winfrey. Among his observations were the following tidbits, which will be catnip for those wily Oscar campaigners at the Weinstein Company:
“Cecil, whose job involves a lot of performance, is a fiercely disciplined actor, and the same can be said of Mr. Whitaker, who demonstrates how gracefully his character walks the line between dignity and servility.”
“Ms. Winfrey, meanwhile, demonstrates that, in addition to being the most famous and powerful woman in the world, she is a fine character actor.”
However, the film did not resonate with other critics, including Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter) and Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal). MetaCritic translated each their tepid reviews into a value of 60.
Two years ago this month, another civil rights era drama — “The Help” — debuted to a similar score on MetaCritic (62). However, it went on to earn $170 million domestically and reaped four Oscar bids, including a Best Picture nomination. While Viola Davis lost Best Actress to Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”), Octavia Spencer won the supporting actress prize over, among others, costar Jessica Chastain.
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