Lee Daniels' The Butler Blu-ray Review

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More than just a slavery-born Forrest Gump

by Casimir Harlow Mar 8, 2014 at 12:02 AM

  • Movies review

    Lee Daniels' The Butler Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £19.99

    Lee Daniels' The Butler Blu-ray Review

    Boasting an all-star cast, Lee Daniels’ fourth feature film takes us on a whistle-stop tour of US history, attempting to look at things from the perspective of the glorified house slave, a White House butler.

    Loosely based on the real life of such a butler, whose service spanned four decades, covering some seven Presidents, The Butler follows the character of Cecil Gaines – played from young adulthood through to old age by Forest Whitaker. He watches the world unfold from within the White House, as the tides change for slavery, segregation and racism; and as the country evolves to a stage where a black President could be elected. The Butler largely succeeds in painting an interesting look at these troubled times, using a dual narrative of what Gaines witnesses within the White House, juxtaposed with his strained family life back home
    A lonely, alcoholic wife and two sons who chose very different paths: one electing to fight for his country in Vietnam, and one electing to fight against his country as a part of the Black Panthers. Strong performances keep both stories on the rails, with Whitaker on solid form, and myriad players bringing the various Presidents to life, although, strangely enough, Cuba Gooding Jr. stands out amidst the crowd as another, more boisterous, employee within the White House. Ultimately, The Butler proves to be both an entertaining and an engaging ride, which paints a very different slant on the latter end of slavery. There’s plenty to enjoy here, not least the myriad interesting performances and the path-through-history narrative.

    Lee Daniels' The Butler Blu-ray Picture Quality

    Lee Daniels
    The Butler is served up on a Region B-locked UK Blu-ray complete with a very nice 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation whose faithful representation of the source material is probably one of the reasons why it can’t quite be regarded as demo quality. Whether due to the fact that they want to at least attempt to assist in the arduous task of ageing the cast members; whether it was designed to help sell the changing eras; or whether it was just a purely stylistic choice, the visuals are given a marginally softer, more blown-out look with bright whites giving it a persistent flashback feel.

    Despite this, detail is excellent, for the most part, the visual observation attempting on the one hand to play along to the varying degrees of makeup and prosthetic application and cover them up as best as it can, whilst also accentuating the usual finer touches you would only expect from a recent production – skin textures, clothing weaves. The Butler finds a fine balance between the two. Its strongest elements are probably in the setting, with background textures and open vistas looking stunning.

    The colour scheme is rich and broad, and the blown-out whites only afford leave its occasionally vivid tones all the more striking. Blacks are solid, allowing for decent night sequences and suitable shadow detail. Digital defects are all-but non-existent, with no overt signs of excessive DNR application, no edge enhancement, and negligible banding. The film retains a stable layer of suitably filmic grain throughout.

    It will never stand toe-to-toe with some of last year’s biggest hitters, but it still looks very good indeed.

    Lee Daniels' The Butler Blu-ray Sound Quality

    Lee Daniels
    The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track isn’t quite as limited by the material, mainly because the movie goes for a swelling, sweeping score that embraces and enhances even the slightest hint of emotion on offer – both in a good and a bad way but, in terms of the soundtrack, arguably only a good way. Indeed it’s probably only this score that elevates the piece, nudging it beyond good and into very good territory.

    Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, maintained across the proceedings irrespective of whatever else is going on, and dominating the frontal array wherever appropriate – even Whitaker’s quiet, contemplative voiceover appears to remain consistently audible across the piece.

    Effects are myriad, bringing the bustle of the White House behind-the-scenes to life, thundering home during some of the more striking racial conflict moments, and embracing the key historical events across the piece. Car sounds remain authentic, locations spring to life with suitable ambience, and riots ignite in your very living room. The score, as aforementioned, holds it all together in a mostly wonderful accompaniment to the piece, and LFE input remains on tap throughout.

    A sweeping score elevates this audio track and, in turn, the film itself.

    Lee Daniels' The Butler Blu-ray Extras

    Matching up to its preceding US counterpart, EiV’s UK release boasts the same selection of solid Extras, including the 22-minute Documentary, An American Story – which sports a hefty salvo of cast and crew interviews looking behind the scenes at the tale and the production – as well as an interesting accompanying 4-minute Featurette called Original Freedom Writers which looks at the civil rights movement at the time. We get about 21 minutes of Deleted Scenes, which dip into a few more character beats, and skim through some missing historical landmarks –like the Cuban Missile Crisis – but don’t really stand out enough to have earned themselves a place in the main feature. A Blooper Reel, a Lenny Kravitz/Glady Knight Music Video and a selection of frustratingly unskippable Preview Trailers that play on startup round off the disc.

    Is Lee Daniels' The Butler Blu-ray Worth Buying

    Lee Daniels
    The Butler provides an interesting, sometimes compelling look at US history as seen through the eyes of a White House butler.

    This Region B-locked UK Blu-ray boasts strong video and audio as well as a solid selection of extra features, making it an easy blind buy for fans of the film, and at least a recommended rental for those interested in the subject-matter.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99

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