The film is touted as being “inspired by a true story” of Eugene Allen, who served in the White House for 34 years, but other than the fact that both Gaines and Allen are African American butlers, their life stories couldn’t be more different. Early in the film, I realized both the writer, Danny Strong, and the director had a political axe to grind, and it really pulled me out of the film. Politics aside, the screenplay is very fragmented and overreaches on too many occasions.
The middling video transfer looks absolutely wonderful at times, but there are too many scenes with crushed blacks and fuzzy details to warrant a higher rating. Film grain wavers from nonexistent to overbearing, depending on the scene, and the color palette is slightly oversaturated and too warm, although this may have been intentionally done to mimic the specific time periods portrayed. Fortunately, the audio track fares much better, with intelligible dialogue, a wonderful score— my favorite aspect of the film—and some surprisingly thunderous bass.
Supplements include a behind-the-scenes documentary that includes cast and crew interviews, a bevy of deleted scenes, a short featurette about the real-life Freedom Riders, a music video, and a gag reel.
I’m usually a sucker for this type of historically based film, but I feel misled by Daniels and company. I read the wonderful story in the Washington Post about Allen and expected to see his life transformed to the big screen. Unfortunately, Daniels chose to go in a different direction, and not even the all-star cast could overcome the mediocre screenplay.
Studio: The Weinstein Company, 2013
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 132 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Lee Daniels
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Jr.