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Behind the Candelabra

July 4, 2013

Behind the Candelabra (2013)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Actors: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe

Behind the C

Synopsis: Liberace (Michael Douglas) embarks on a secret affair with animal trainer, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), in 1977. Thorson moves in with Liberace and becomes his de facto partner and work lackey. After ten relatively harmonious years, cracks start to show as Liberace’s eye turns to other young men, and Thorson’s paranoia (coupled by pill addiction) further ostracises him from Liberace.

Review: To borrow from the film’s title allusion, behind the candelabra of Steven Soderbergh’s detailed, lustrous account of Liberace’s late-life affair with young animal trainer, Scott Thorson, there’s ultimately not much to distinguish its trajectory from other familiar ‘rise-and-fall’ Hollywood biopics. That’s not to say the journey itself isn’t enjoyable, and Soderbergh (ably supported by excellent turns by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon) manages to imbue the majority of the film with intelligent and well-realised scenes, ideas and cinematographic flourishes.

Though some of the thematic posturing is a touch obvious – the early stages over-demonstrate how Thorson is assuming a familiar mantle as Liberace’s latest young fad – there’s a lot of storytelling richness in how that scenario plays out. Soderbergh’s mise en scène is masterly, suggesting how Liberace maintains his luxurious cocoon (a means to essentially trap the next buff young thing), by continually shutting out the outside world. It took me a while to process just how few actors there are in this film, and how very few scenes take place in actual daylight, but are set in Liberace’s perpetually cavernous and ostentatious residences and sets in Las Vegas.

Matt Damon utterly owns the role of the unassuming young man who is gently subsumed into Liberace’s quasi-fatherly realm, but it’s Michael Douglas’ film ultimately. He’s one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, and as revealed in his marvellous turn in Wonder Boys, I think there’s a gifted character actor and comedian waiting to get out. With Liberace, he straddles the fine line between honouring the obvious effete persona of the famous pianist, without caricaturing him, and, in the process, he makes the character’s arc actually quite moving. (July 2013)

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