By constantly emphasizing racial issues things start to feel too forced, therefor not realistic, therefor not engaging and therefor the movie- and the drama in particular, starts to work out as something mostly ineffective.
That all should pretty much sum up how the movie "The Butler" is like. There was plenty of potential here and on paper this movie indeed sounds like a great and fascinating one. A poor black man without anything, who grew out to become the head butler at the White House, at a time when there was still plenty of oppression and prejudices against colored people. All sound perfect for a fascinating drama and character piece right? Well, the movie is neither really, which is all due to its actual story and to a lesser extend also its way of storytelling.
It's weird to see really how everything in this movie is centered around racial issues. So here we have a movie in which numerous US Presidents show up, yet all they ever talk- and seem to be concerned about are racial issues. Even things like the Vietnam war are handled as a footnote and is the Cold War even mentioned once in this movie? I know that was exactly the movie its point and everything in the movie is very deliberate and calculated but that's also one of the big problems with it. By constantly focusing on racism and such, the movie leaves no room for anything else to ever properly develop. Even the characters, including the main one, are incredibly underdeveloped and poorly handled ones.
Because the movie is set over the course of a couple of decades, a whole bunch of different character and a whole bunch of dramatic and historical stuff gets touched upon and is happening in the movie. But hardly any of it ever gets properly developed or handled, which is making the movie an incredibly flat one to watch. The movie feels like a telling of events, without an emotional punch to it. There are besides too many distractions in its story, that don't really go anywhere or add enough to the overall movie.
It's never a very engaging or inspirational movie to watch. I really don't know what I was supposed to take out of this movie and it ultimately is also a very forgettable one. You are better off reading about the real Eugene Allen character, which the Forest Whitaker character is loosely based on and about the Civil Rights Movement. It's not only more interesting; it's also more accurate and engaging than anything that's ever happening in this, too forced and too calculated, movie.
Sure, it's not the worst thing you can ever watch and it's still very well worth watching for its acting alone. Even though all of the characters are poorly handled and developed, most of the actors are still doing a good job with them. Nothing Oscar worthy in my opinion but great nevertheless. I know a lot of people are talking about Oprah Winfrey but let me just tell you this; if she would act more regularly people would have looked at her performance as just one of her many ones and not one that's really all that noteworthy. But as it is, since this is one of the rare movies she'd starred in and she's doing a great job in it, people are overreacting and overpraising her a bit too much in my opinion.
And yes, a whole bunch of other well known actors show up in this movie but most of them only for just a couple of minutes though. Even some of the presidents are only in this movie for 1 minute or less, while they are being played by some very recognizable names and faces. And that's a bit of a problem as well with this movie; it feels too gimmicky. Every 10 minutes or so a new presidents shows up, played by a well known actor dressed up as the president. And that's exactly how it feels and looks; an actor dressed up as a president. Most of the time they don't even look the part and I for instance didn't ever realized until afterward that John Cusack was supposed to be Nixon in this. The only actor that looks the part was Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, which was mostly due to his makeup though. And really, it's also a weird sight, seeing Reagan speaking with Rickman's very distinctive and recognizable voice. You may not recognize Rickman as Reagan but you'll surely recognize his voice!
Also another problem I had with this movie is that it starts in the 1920's and ends in the 2000's but the movie its look never changes. The '60's look exactly the same as the '80's and the '70's the same as the '90's, etcetera. The only way for you to know that a movie is either set at the '60's or '80's is when you see someone like Kennedy or Reagan randomly show up in one of the many scenes.
It's not a terrible movie but definitely one that fails to make an impact or leave leave much of an impression, in any way or form, due to its forced themes and underdeveloped story and characters.