Monday, 18 November 2013
132 Minutes. Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Olyelowo, Elijah Kelly, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jnr, Lenny Kravitz, Robin Williams, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Nelsan Ellis, Vanessa Redgrave, David Banner, Mariah Carey & Clarence Williams III. Director: Lee Daniels.
From Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama and all the Kennedy's and Clinton's in-between there's not many that have served in the White House for over two terms, Let alone more than a decade or half century. Except, that is Forest Whitaker's inspiration of Eugene Allen, a historical figure like no other. A waiter and butler who served everywhere from the West Wing to the Oval Office for 34 years, before retiring as head butler with a resume of broken down boundaries and stereotypes and everyone from Ronald Reagan to Richard Nixon as a reference. In this influential interpretation from 'Precious', 'Paperboy' director Lee Daniels of 'Monsters Ball' debut fame an all-star, all-talent, role playing, 'Bobby' like, eclectic, ensemble cast from the mans Rolodex of everything from Academy Award winners to musicians and talk-show hosts is served up. This story of history making movement through the decades and ages a' changin' is one of 'Forrest Gump' epic storytelling proportions, but one as real and raw as life's uplifting and heartbreaking beautiful struggle really gets. The plight and the might of those men, woman and children who suffered so much hateful racism from an ignorant world decades back is mirrored and reflected by the man who went from the lowest of the low to the tip of the top, serving not only his country but the men his country forgot. When it comes to inspiration it doesn't come much more influential than this introspective look of integrity to the dot of the I.
Forest Whitaker couldn't play this part any better with a perfect portrayal of a hero unsung until now. The man who played the worst of the worst for his Oscar winning 'Last King Of Scotland' plays the best man he could for maybe his second award tour. Behind his service smile, there is a weary look of a mans life that served some of the highest people in all of the lowest and wrong ways just to do right for his family. Still, putting pride into his work and honor into his duty, the man that helped change the time and tide of not only his inner-work but the outer work from a presidential position is given amazing assistance by the leading man this industry and Academy has missed. In the forest of Whitaker's great career the roots of this tree will stand out for generations more as it has for ones before. Behind every great man like this, is a strong woman and we have one here in full support and leading light with billionaire, television queen Oprah Winfrey. If you thought this woman was all talk show host than you must be Ellen confused. Did you forget about her Academy nominated debut in 'The Color Purple'? Well you can be reminded about what that was like next February, because when it comes to acting the hardest working philanthropist with a show on the side is back. The mighty 'O' shows strength of character and will of resolve as she goes through the personal turmoil that goes through her husbands long tenure and the personal and public events that surround all these years of lasting marriage through turbulent times. Oprah may carry this film, but in this production everyone gets awards.
There's academy certified thespian Terrence Howard who returns to consideration with this and the emotion of the arresting 'Prisoners'. A little too sinister in the tooth for his own good in this one, Howard really shows all the ends of his range. As does David Oyelowo of 'Planet Of The Apes', 'Jack Reacher' and 'Lincoln' and forthcoming 'Jurrasic World' and everything else fame (he's collaborated with actor ('The Last King Of Scotland') and director ('The Paperboy') before too) alongside his enigmatic Elijah Kelly brother. How they make this man pushing 40 look like a teenager is anyone's make-up guess, but it comes from the same team that makes Liev Schreiber look unrecognizable as Lyndon B. Johnson with an unmistakable performance. The same team that gives as good a Nixon nose as John Cusack does a made-up performance. In fact all the presidents men are perfect here from Robin Williams musings as Eisenhower to Brit Alan Rickman playing THE American president Ronald Reagan with punctuated perfection. It's his wife Jane Fonda's Nancy or the Cyclops to Kennedy vision of a surprisingly perfect JFK in James Marsden that truly elects more in this house of acting cards however. The two top draws that polish the silverware better than this are Whitaker's fellow workers. Cuba Gooding Jr returns to the limelight looking and feeling like he never left, while 'Precious' rock star and 'Hunger Games' major player Lenny Kravitz continues to catch fire in anything he does with the odds in his favour. He's not the only musician hitting high notes here as Daniels brings Mariah Carey back for a cameo as well as down south rapper David Banner for the truest portrayal of a man growing up in a unforgivable, evil hardship. Along with the veteran presence of greats Vanessa Redgrave and Clarence Williams the third, to the new, rising stars of Kelly and 'Soloist' Nelsan Ellis as Martin Luther King Jnr, this portrayal is the perfect mix of storied stars and grassroots talent.
From the cotton fields to the White House this is a story told as movingly as it is harrowing. From inspirational moments of real change from tomorrow to today, to sickening moments in history that will still rock you to the core this is necessary trip through history with no despair spared and all hope kept going. With practically every actor going, every major event over the last century from the assassination of JFK and MLK to the forming of the Ku Klux Klan and Black Panthers is explored in all it's political and social implications and cause and effects. Even the later 80's and 90's are identified by amazing ageing make-up and the use of his and her, all in one shell suits. As real and as raw an account of modern life over the last 50 or so years as it gets, this may not have all the facts of it's portrayed mans life correct, but it still presents some lasting truths which everyone can learn from for a better way. The change we see today is all born from a black man who made it to the White House with all his inspired influence before the man who holds its chair today. Rightfully so before he passed, Eugene Allen got to meet President Barack Obama in all the realized Martin Luther King dreams he became. If only he got to meet the man who has done him the first-hand justice he deserves in the movie-world that reaches more people than unfortunately the history book one does. In a respectful and right performance guided by the next great director of modern, movie-making times, Forest Whitaker helps tell the story of a man that more in this digital age need to read up on, because if it wasn't for the likes of Eugene Allen, many of us wouldn't be able to see this today. No matter what race you are, Allen helped us all, not because of the color of his skin but the content of his character. When it comes to that type of work, there is no greater service to man. TIM DAVID HARVEY.