Sunday, 12 January 2014

Film Review: Behind the Candelabra



Behind the Candelabra received a fairly small cinema release upon arriving in Australia last year; unfortunately, this meant I never got the chance to sit down and review the thing. With the film now on DVD, here's my full length review of this touching and glitzy HBO-produced TV movie. 


A biopic about larger-than-life showbiz icon Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his tenuous relationship with lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), Behind the Candelabra contains some of the most surprising acting performances of the last twelve months.

First, let's talk about Liberace himself, Michael Douglas. Douglas' transformation into the icon is so convincing and real, I would not have been able to pick it out as him had I not known going in.

Not only does he look the part (white teeth, hair piece and everything), but he acts it. He is completely immersed within the role, every minute idiosyncrasy further heightening this sense of completeness. The character Douglas plays doesn't slip once and is an engrossing performance.

The same can be said for Matt Damon, who plays Liberace's lover Scott. Damon's performance is equally as impressive as a young naive boy swept up by the glitz and glamour of Liberace and Las Vegas. His arc is handled really well; what I liked most about this film was the way in which Damon's character was shaped by showbiz and his time spent near in spotlight.

The film doesn't hold back in showing both characters dark-sides. The intimate details of their relationship is laid-bare for all to see, and can make for uncomfortable viewing sometimes. I liked how Soderbergh didn't shy away from focusing the story on Liberace's slightly sinister side. The film doesn't aim to simply depict the man as a queen or a unreal showman. There is a lot of depth to both characters, with Soderbergh really getting into the nitty gritty.

I also liked how well-paced the story arc was between the two protagonists. It didn't feel as though the story lingered too much on any single moment of their relationship, the film trotting across their six years spent together at a good pace.

"And now, Chopsticks"
Visually, the 1970/80's Las Vegas setting looks fantastic, with more sequins and glittery suits than you can shake a stick at. Those who are uncomfortable with themes like sexuality and such may find themselves shifting in their seats, but I found this film to a really interesting study of a larger-than-life character I knew little about.

Even if you know nothing about Liberace, or what he was about, it is worth giving Behind the Candelabra a watch for the acting alone.

The Verdict: 7.5/10


Soderbergh's directorial swansong is a lot more than a superficial glitter-drenched comedy; on the contrary, Behind the Candelabra is a deeply affecting drama with wonderful performances and more depth than I expected.

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