Print this ArticlePrint this Article Email this ArticleEmail this Article
Text Size: A | A | A

The Invisible Man

 Posted: 9:05 AM August 22, 2013

It's not necessary to see more than a glimpse of the trailer from "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and sense that it's a must-see. A drama, spanning the administrations of Eisenhower to Reagan, beginning with those mildly vanilla years of the 1950s, a precursor to some of the most tumultuous years in the last half of the 20th century, including the hubristic war in Vietnam, fought in a small, rural country half a world away against a people we didn't understand.

At home, an anti-war movement surged, draft cards and bras were burned, and Martin Luther King Jr. led an iconic civil rights movement that changed for all time the meaning of equality in America.

All of that occurred and the tectonic plates of American culture shifted. Except in the world of Cecil Gaines (Forrest Whitaker), a man from the deep South, who, as a boy, watched his father, standing in a vast cotton field, shot dead by a plantation owner simply because he could.

Lee Daniels' The Butler

126 min

Rated PG-13

Paranoia

100 min

Rated PG-13

He was taken from the fields by the white woman of the house and made into her personal house n——-, as she called him, schooling Cecil in the art of serving. And it was she who said to young Cecil, "The room should feel empty when you're in it."

It is those words that form the fulcrum for "Lee Daniels' The Butler."

This film is a character study of one man who moved from hotel dining rooms to the White House where he stoically, with restraint and sheer will, made sure the room was empty. As did all the black help that stood silently in the rooms and corridors of the halls of power, ignored, taken for granted, statuary that set plates and cups and saucers before the men and women of the manor.

But gradually, it becomes clear that while "The Butler" is a montage spanning decades, what is embedded in every frame are two astonishing realities: one, that for a black person to survive in white America, he or she must wear an unobtrusive, compliant, nonthreatening mask. Like Cecil, they must be, in effect, be invisible.

And it is only among those of their own that they can remove the facade and be themselves. In other words, white America never saw those who were black as three-dimensional persons. Not the president and not those who aimed fire hoses at them as they marched into diners and across bridges.

And this was true without exception in the White House where Cecil stood, day after day, year after year, his silence a tangible thing that went unnoticed.

The black servants worked and served, did the bidding of those who sat at the polished tables of privilege, those men and women who possessed little insight or interest concerning who they were: these butlers, maids, janitors, kitchen workers, porters.

It was, upon reflection, a form of profiling with all its concomitant assumptions. A profiling that mirrored society then and has yet to be resolved.

Therein lies the power of this film. An essence that is almost lost in its sheer breadth of events, though Cecil, the man, is never completely overshadowed. He stands and waits, waits for more than he can ever allow himself to express. Therein resides the film's integrity.

"Paranoia"

For those who enjoy a high-tech, surveillance-saturated-society thriller, one that seems familiar while being contemporized with a bevy of state-of-the-art gadgetry, they will find much to like in "Paranoia."

Of course, the plot is predictable and slick, and it does manage to squeeze in one solid twist at the end. And there are the performances of Harrison Ford (buzzed scalp, heavy glasses) and Gary Oldman (with an English accent) who portray two corporate moguls each intent on the other's destruction.

So Oldamn/Nicholas Wyatt, lethal and remorseless, blackmails a young striver, Adam Cassidy (Liam Helmsworth), into acting as a mole in the company owned by Ford/Jock Goodard.

And thus begins an elaborate deception. But be prepared to suspend your disbelief, for Cassidy is burdened with a conscience and an ailing father (Richard Dreyfus), and does not come close to having the steely nerves of a spy.

He does manage, however, to stumble along on good looks, charm and the affluence Wyatt lavished on him. He also is reminded by Wyatt's resident thug that he has a job to do. Betray and steal. Backing out is not an option. Even when he's becomes involved with one of Goddard's corporate management lovelies, Emma, played by the stunning Amber Heard.

Does the screenplay have echoes of "Wall Street" and "The Firm?" Definitely. Does it possess the sustained complexity and tension of either? No. But again, for the niche audience that embraces all things nerdy and geeky and techie, "Paranoia" will find an audience.

— Chris Honoré


Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.
COUPON OF THE WEEK