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BY Steven D. GreydanusFilm Critic
Fruitvale Station (2013) — PICK
Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013) — PICK
Pride and Prejudice (1995) — PICK
2013 was a strong year for fact-based films about the black experience in America, and the latest crop of home-video releases includes two of the year’s most acclaimed such films.
By far the better known is Lee Daniels’ The Butler, loosely based on the real-life career of Eugene Allen, who worked in the White House for more than 30 years, serving seven presidents, from Eisenhower to Reagan. Forrest Whittaker plays a fictional version of Allen named Cecil Gaines, with Oprah Winfrey as his wife, David Oyelowo as their eldest son and a series of oddly cast cameos as the various presidents. (Robin Williams as Eisenhower? Alan Rickman as Reagan?) The film’s biggest strength is Whittaker’s performance and his character’s family life, plus certain key moments in his career. Fruitvale Station, first-time director Ryan Coogler’s powerful Sundance winner, is a fictionalized account of the last hours of Oscar Grant, a young black man from the Bay Area who became a cause célèbre when eyewitness video of his killing by transit police went viral. Michael B. Jordan gives a textured performance as a compromised but sympathetic young man, neither simple thug nor innocent victim.
Finally, Janeites rejoice! The BBC’s lavish 1995 Pride and Prejudice — starring Colin Firth as the definitive Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet — comes to Blu-ray. The new "keepsake edition" includes over an hour of never-before-seen bonus features.
Caveat Spectator: Fruitvale Station: A disturbing extended sequence of police roughness with a fatal shooting; some sensuality and a scene of sexuality (no nudity); brief nonsexual nudity; racial epithets, heavy obscene and crass language; limited profanity. Mature viewing; discretion advised. Lee Daniels’ The Butler: Some sensuality and scenes of sexuality (no nudity); sexually themed dialogue, an implied rape and implied extramarital affair; scenes of menace and disturbing racial violence; racial epithets, limited obscene and profane language. Mature viewing. Pride and Prejudice: Romantic complications, including a subplot involving a scoundrel leading a young girl astray. Generally fine family viewing.