The Butler ★★★½

Was expecting far worse. Uneven, yes, but with some really great scenes: much of the home life material, that family dinner that ends in an argument about Sidney Poitier, John Cusack's entrance as Nixon when he's still VP (like some demon haunting the White House), the sequence intercutting the training and participation in the lunch counter sit-ins with the serving of a White House state dinner (an obvious, but effective, montage), and I thought most of the actual presidential interactions were appropriately biting. (Way too soft on Reagan, however.) The first and last acts don't really work, and it's too long, but it has a ton of great performances (where has Cuba Gooding, Jr. been?) and its observations of lower-middle class black life in mid-century D.C. certainly make it something special, and obviously unique. Would I like to see the version of this where Daniels really goes all out and does his thing? Sure, but this isn't a terrible start.