Knoxville — I didn't like this movie. It's one of those that falls victim to overestimating its own importance and storytelling quality.
This is the story of Cecil Gaines, portrayed by Forest Whitaker. Gaines' father is shot while the two work in a Georgian cotton field, and Gaines is brought in to the house to serve in that capacity. This upbringing leads him to a life as a house servant who works his way into the role of a butler at the White House.
Whitaker is a great actor, who has delivered several performances I've enjoyed over the years, but in this case, for being the main character in the film, there wasn't much for him to do. It seemed as though the character was just there when all of these historically significant events occur. Granted, a butler is just supposed to be there, but you can't make a good movie, telling the story of the butler, without giving the butler an opportunity to own a scene.
One of the challenges of this is that the film is filled with big personalities playing even bigger historical icons. The cast includes Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, James Marsden, John Cusack and Liev Schrieber portraying Presidents. Each of these men are good actors, but the problem is that because they're playing such iconic roles, they seem to overdo it. It's kind of a turnoff from that perspective, but when you provide this additional challenge to another great actor in Whitaker, who is supposed to portray a subdued character to start with, the result isn't good.
Of course, Whitaker's other scenes are not easy as well, often being joined onscreen by Oprah, Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Terrance Howard, all of whom are talented, but limited by their one-dimensional characters.