'Lee Daniels' The Butler' Is a Flawed Yet Rewarding Journey

Peter Travers says the historical epic is 'Hollywood-ized' but ultimately rewarding

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As Peter Travers says, it's rare for a film to generate Oscar buzz in the summertime. But critics are swooning in a major way for Lee Daniels' The Butler, which stars Forest Whitaker as White House butler Cecil Gaines.

See photos of Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey at the 2013 Rock Hall Induction

The role is based on the life of a real man, Eugene Butler, who held his position for 34 years, observing the nation's major evolutions in politics and civil rights. It's an epic plot tailor-made for Oscar glory, but does The Butler really deliver on the hype?

According to Travers, the answer is a tentative yes.

Our critic praises Whitaker's magnetic lead performance, but he saves his loudest applause for Oprah Winfrey, who co-stars as the title character's cheating alcoholic wife. Travers says Winfrey's "slovenly" spouse is both "funny" and "fierce." 

There are speedbumps: Travers takes issue with the film's "Hollywood-ized" feel, particularly the obtrusive, shoehorned guest appearances — including John Cusack as Richard Nixon and Robin Williams as an "unrecognizable" Dwight D. Eisenhower. ("What is this?" Travers asks of the cameos. "It's not making any sense!")

Yet for all the film's "crudeness," he says the picture ultimately works, mostly because of its historical sweep, with "the whole civil rights era reflected through this butler" and his family life.

"Flaws and all," Travers says, "you should see [it]."

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