‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’
As “Empire” sledgehammers into our brains every week it’s on, Lee Daniels is one of this era’s most deranged trash masters. This makes him perversely perfect for what could have been a stodgy, but quietly smart, Civil Rights saga. On one hand, Danny Strong’s script wisely sets up two seemingly conflicted positions: a heads-down approach taken by a longtime White House butler (Forest Whitaker) and the radical stance adopted by his son (David Oyelowo). It doesn’t pick a side, instead allowing the two extremes to speak to each other and slowly merge. On the other side, there’s a rarely more comfortable Cuba Gooding Jr. adlibbing dirty jokes, Oprah Winfrey dancing, long stares at Jane Fonda’s Nancy Reagan’s butt and Liev Schreiber spending most of his LBJ screentime on the can. It’s the stirring and tough “Selma”’s brattier but no less engaged and passionate cousin.