The year's first serving of Oscar bait has arrived on a silver platter in the form of "
Thus far the film has earned positive, if somewhat ambivalent reviews, with critics praising the strong ensemble cast for helping to ground writer-director Daniels' melodramatic flair.
In a measured review, The Times' Kenneth Turan writes, "'The Butler' is neither as good as it might have been nor as bad as survivors of
Daniels demonstrates "contempt for subtlety, weakness for cliché and perennial determination to wring every last drop of emotion out of a situation," but he also has an "ability to create believable black middle-class situations that are so hard to come by on mainstream screens." Ultimately, "this is one significant film where less would have been a whole lot more."
Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press writes that "Daniels and company may not have made a masterpiece, but they have made a film you should see." In the title role, Whitaker delivers "a moving, grounded performance that anchors the film and blunts its riskier excesses." Likewise,
A.O. Scott of the
Phillips says, "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. This being a Daniels picture, shot every which way and going for the throat every second, grandiosity is inevitable.… So let's put it this way: Like America itself, the movie's a stimulating tangle."
New York magazine's David Edelstein finds the film "crudely powerful" and says, "You can object to the thuggish direction and the script that's a series of signposts, but not the central idea, which is genuinely illuminating." He adds, "Daniels works in elegiac, Oscar-bait mode, but the actors find ways to stay raw."
And in the Village Voice, Stephanie Zacharek says "The Butler" "is blunt where it needs to be. Sometimes it's too didactic or sentimental. But unlike Daniels' previous pictures,