The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: The Weinstein Company - 2013
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Feature running time: 132 minutes
Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 1.85:1
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, John Cusak, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr. Lenny Kravitz, Terrence Howard, Jane Fonda, James Marsden, Robin Williams, Liev Schriber, Alan Rickman, Vanessa Redgrave
Directed by: Lee Daniels
Written by: Danny Strong
Region Code: A
Blu-ray Disc release Date: January 14, 2014
Lee Daniels' The Butler tells the story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man's life and family.
As someone that tends to enjoy films based on not only true stories but those with historical significance I eagerly awaited the arrival of The Butler for review. The film is inspired by the true story of Eugene Allen a black man that worked in the White House as a butler from 1952 to 1986. The term “inspired” is operative as the filmmakers caught wind of the Eugene’s story after reading an article in the Washington Post by Will Haygood. The article summarizes his career, family life with his wife and son (along with details about other African American/White House interaction/experiences in the 20th Century). Included are interviews with both Eugene and his wife of 60 plus years along with photos and accounts of his interaction with the seven presidents he served during his tenure.
The film dramatizes the events of his life using the civil rights movement/period as a focal point/backdrop. It begins at the end and is narrated by the main character, Cecil Gaines, via a full circle narrative beginning with his childhood. The topic of racism can be a tough one and as it is an innate part of our culture seeing it depicted onscreen is nothing new however for me it is something that I never get accustomed to. The storyline follows Cecil from his days as a boy in the south through to his arrival in Washington DC as a young man getting his first job as a waiter in an upscale hotel. This segues into the opportunity for employment at the White House as a member of the service staff. Co-mingled is the introduction of Cecil’s wife, two sons and a mix of additional characters made up of co-workers and friends/neighbors. The early parts of the film establish the relationships between the characters with Cecil’s home life and work life having a seemingly solid foundation. Then there is a dramatic shift with the emergence of problems at home between Cecil and his oldest son Louis who upon graduation from high school has aspirations to go to college in order to pursue a calling that will develop into the civil rights movement. That is followed by marital stress due to Cecil’s long hours and devotion to work.
Cecil’s tenure at the White House began during the Eisenhower administration during racial tensions surrounding the attempts at school integration. As the story plays out it moves back and forth between matters at home and work with the civil rights matters evolving through each presidential administration with each having its own small snapshot which includes Cecil’s perspective on the headlines of the period. With the passing of time there are a variety of subplots that revolve around Cecil. This includes his relationship with his wife Gloria, son Louis, his co-workers and Louis’ involvement in the civil rights movement and beyond.
Looking at The Butler simply as a drama there is an unevenness to the narrative that waters down the focus, which to me is story of this character and what was seen through his eyes while working in the capacity that he did as well as the effect that he had on those he served. With that I think there would be a natural flow that would highlight the trials/tribulations of the day without the need to overcrowd the plot. In and of itself the depiction of Eugene’s middle class African American family bearing witness to the civil rights chronology as a minor subplot to the main theme would have been enough. What we are left with is an over ambitious script that is a bit too broad to be thoroughly engrossing.
However there is a fundamentally sound message at the heart of the film which imbues a historical relevance and emotional transference that revolves not only around the racism/civil rights movement but the familial strife which is an aside that can have connective tissue for any family. In addition the performances by the ensemble cast beginning with Forest Whitaker, through to a wonderful assortment of cameos from the likes of Liev Schriber, Alan Rickman, Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Terrence Howard and Clarence Williams III, there is rewarding balance that underscores the thematic events. The only real quibble that I had with the casting (other than the presence of Mariah Carey) was the decision to have 37 year old David Oyelowo portray the character of Louis beginning from the age of 17. Other characters in the story were portrayed by younger actors where appropriate and this was plainly obvious and a bit of a distraction. As he aged it was fine and as with the other members of the cast he was solid.
Unfortunately the film takes some rather deleterious and unnecessary liberties with the personal life of the real man that inspired the film. Luckily it adheres to the primary facts surrounding his tenure and work at the White House including the affection shared by those who knew him. In that light I found The Butler to be an interesting and poignant film that was well worth my time.
The rating is for some violence and disturbing images, language, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking.
AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65
**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
The Butler comes to Blu-ray Disc from Anchor Bay Entertainment featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 28 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 2.8 Mbps.
This is a pleasing video presentation that boasts plenty of high level detail, enriching contrast, natural colors and dimensionality. Blacks are punchy and stand out when onscreen with mixed content. Visual perspective in low lighting and darkened areas is estimable. The combination gives dark scenes appreciable depth. Images are dynamic, vivid, and perfectly suited for the source material while exhibiting no signs of video related artifacts.
The lossless DTS-HD MA soundtrack presents the film’s source elements with aplomb. The quality of the dialogue is unwavering as vocal reproduction is clear and tonally balanced. Dynamic range is very good which lends subtle distinction to low level sounds and gravity to broader ones. A large portion of the film has little need for this as dialogue, atmospheric ambience and musical enhancement is readily conveyed by the front channels. However there are several sequences that enlist the rear channels to create a bit of audible immersion. Overall this soundtrack provides a gratifying listening experience that complimented the video presentation quite nicely.
- (HD) Lee Daniel’s The Butler: Behind the scenes – 22 minute documentary
- (HD) 9 deleted scenes
- (HD) The original Freedom Riders – 3 minute featurette
- (HD) “You and I ain’t nothin’ no more” – performed by Glady Knight and Lenny Kravitz
- (HD) Gag reel – 5 minutes
- Bonus DVD
- Ultraviolet Digital Copy
Inspired by a true story The Butler is an engaging and poignant historical drama that is predominantly faithful to its primary theme while making excellent use of a stalwart ensemble of actors. It comes to Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment featuring a technically solid high definition audio/video presentation mated with a middling supplemental package that left me wanting. The Butler isn’t a perfect movie but it’s a rewarding experience that isn’t to be missed by film enthusiasts. Put it at the top of your rental queue and give it a spin on Blu-ray.
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JVC DLA-RS55 3D Ready 1080p High Definition Front Projector
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Stewart Filmscreen - Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16x9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Horizontal Masking System
Marantz AV8801 11.2 Channel Audio/Video Processor
Sherbourn Technologies - 7/200 Seven Channel Amplifier
B&K Reference 200.7 Series 2 Seven Channel Amplifier
Oppo BDP-103D Universal Disc/3D capable Blu-ray Player (With Darbee video processing)
Panasonic DMP-BDT310 3D capable Blu-ray Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
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System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule Pro HD Universal Remote Control
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SV Sound PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)
APC AV S15BLK Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
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