If this is to be the final film of Soderbergh’s extended farewell tour, then it is one that captures the ethos of the director perfectly. Playful, focussed, irritating and observant, as a biopic this might not be the sort of film we usually get but on this occasion, it’s exactly the one the subject deserves.
In the summer of 1977, handsome young stranger Scott Thorson walked into Liberace’s dressing room and, despite their age difference and seemingly different worlds, the two embarked on a secretive five-year love affair.
To the outside world, Scott was an employee, at most a friend, but behind closed doors, his life with Liberace was an intense rollercoaster of hedonistic fun, flamboyance, and excess.
Starring Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson, BEHIND THE CANDELABRA tells the fascinating true story of their glamorous life together and their tempestuous relationship.
Michael Douglas is fantastic in the lead role. He is rightly being talked up for end-of-year awards, and even at this early stage, it would be hard to bet against him. What might count against him is the fact that this film has been broadcast on TV in the US, whereas we get it on the big screen.
You feel that the subject matter is the reason for this. We might not be as progressive as some countries, but we sure as heck are more tolerant than others. It’s bizarre then that this is an utterly American story. Liberace, despite his obvious flamboyance, lived the American Dream.
We enter this world of gold-plating and fur through the eyes of Scott Thorson. Matt Damon plays him without the naiveté that it would be easy to lend such a character. When we see him for the first time, Thornton is a young and incredibly buff blonde Adonis.
Think Jason Bourne with a bouffant. Damon doesn’t go overboard with the mannerisms; it’s a studied performance which deliberately lacks the excesses that Douglas brings to Liberace.
The costumes and overall styling of the film are exceptional. You’ll want to see more of the homes and clothes that the characters live in. But it’s also about the subtleties in relationships.
We get an insight into how both men cope with the loss of the mothers (or maternal figures in the case of Thornton), and how their own flaws come into play later in their lives.
The first half of the film is bristling with energy. The staging and sense of fun permeate from every scene with Douglas and Damon having a lot of fun. If you think of a Liberace film done by Hollywood, then the first half is that film.
The rest is pure Soderbergh. The gradual break-up due to drugs is partly to blame, but so is the impending arrival of the AIDS virus. There are still some playful moments to be had though, not least the spectacular presence of Rob Lowe. His constantly pained expression is a joy to behold.
With this and Side Effects before it, Soderbergh proves he still has a lot to offer. If he can come back with something that doesn’t have “Ocean’s” in the title, we’d pay to see it.