Verdict: 3.5 / 5
You hear nothing. You see nothing. You only serve.
After serving eight American presidents over a period of three decades you can believe that any server in the Whitehouse has a pretty lengthy list of insider information and gossip. Most of us would love to be a fly on the wall in that joint, but a fly with no voice in the decision making is surely a tough job.
This historical drama is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen and follows the life journey of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) from his humble beginnings as a cotton field worker to a butler at the Whitehouse and his 34 years of service within it. This remarkable journey places Gaines in earshot of some of the most important discussions and decisions within the oval office that would affect his own wellbeing, the future of his African American countrymen and his own children. Although this job brings him honour it also creates a gap between himself and his family especially in regards to his son’s rebellion and involvement in the civil rights movement and his wife’s struggle with alcohol.
One of the best parts of this film is watching each American president being played by one of your favourite actors: Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, James Marsden as JF Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, John Cusack as Richard Nixon and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan. With this in mind, this really does feel a bit like another patriotic we-are-going-to-imbed-in-your-brain-that-America-is-amazing kind of film so if you are not emotionally tied to this culture, history or heritage the film’s intent may be lost and it may appear to you that it is all one massive presidential campaign video for Barak Obama. It does however give an authentic insiders look into the real issues facing individuals, students and families who lived through the civil rights movement in America dealing with the ongoing inequality and changing society.
There appears to be quite a number of goofs when it comes to authenticity of the props and some car models that are out of place and out of time. IMDB notes eleven significant flaws including anachronisms such as a bronze 1959 Chevrolet driving by the Whitehouse when the shot is titled 1957 and having 60 stars on the US flag in 1957 when there should have only been 58 as Alaska and Hawaii had not yet been added. Even though it is hard to be wholly perfect in period pieces there seems to be quite a number of these visible flaws. For the most part though, unless you were particularly savvy and on the ball these mistakes will pass you unawares.
Overall this is a challenging and heart-warming film about a simple man doing the best he can do in one of the most difficult jobs in the world. A movie worth watching.