Film Trailer Review: Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)

Whilst featuring an amazing cast ensemble and a fascinating story of despair & triumph, The Butler lacks appeal and fails to hook us into the story.

The first thing I thought when watching the trailer for Lee Daniels’ The Butler was what an amazing cast ensemble. Featuring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrence Howard, Mariah Carey, Robin Williams, Melissa Leo, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, John Cusack, Jane Fonda and Alan Rickman, The Butler is probably guaranteed to feature at least one Academy Award worthy performance.

Written by Danny Strong (writer of the next Hunger Games), The Butler tells the story of an African-American man called Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker) who rises from a pantry man to become a butler for the White House, and shows his experiences during his 34 year tenure. It is based on the life of Eugene Allen, who held the position of White House butler for the same period, and also on a Washington Post article which profiled Eugene’s life.

It seems like a very fascinating story, one that carries a great amount of drama with it. However, I do feel the trailer gives too much story away. As is the case with many trailers in recent times, you could look at it once and see how the whole movie goes, and how it ends. The trailer shows us Cecil as a young juvenile criminal burgling stores, and then shows us how he overcame that and became a hard-working man. It seems to touch on all of the major points of his life, including the struggles he experienced during the Civil rights movement of the 50s/60s/70s, and how they had to overcome opposition from groups such as the KKK. Unfortunately, the trailer seems to show everything that is going to happen in the film, including that our main character makes it past everything we just saw.

What a more effective trailer for The Butler would have said is “Okay, here’s this guy, here’s what he was, here’s what he is trying to be, here’s the opposition he faces – can he do it?”. That’s what all trailer should do –  they should draw you into the theatre,so you can then see whether or not you protagonist was successful. This trailer unfortunately does not do that; it instead says “Here’s who this guy was, he did this and that and that’s why he was so amazing and that’s why you should go see this movie.”

That’s going to appeal to people like me for sure –  because I’m a film fanatic, I’ll go watch virtually anything. But it won’t appeal to the casual viewer, because the trailer is not drawing them in. This is sad, because as I said, it was an incredibly fascinating story, and looks a sure fire contender to receive some Academy Award nominations. With the film coming out this summer,  it needs to compete with the biggest and best summer blockbusters. This trailer won’t help.

Will it still draw? Sure. Would it have drawn more if they tried to entice you more? Most definitely.

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