Behind The Candelabra

14 Jun

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Directed by Steven Soderbergh Behind The Candelabra charts the story of the six-year relationship between world famous American pianist and singer Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his significantly younger lover, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon).

The film is based on the memoirs of Thorson himself. As with several of my more recent reviews, I don’t know too much about the life of Liberace and I have not read the book, so I was able to gain a take on the film without worrying too much about how faithful it was to actual events.

The story itself is quite extraordinary. When Liberace meets the much younger Scott, he immediately takes a shine to him. It’s not long before Liberace has invited Scott to work for him, and things quickly progress between the two and they become lovers. During the period of their relationship, we are presented with things that are certainly outside of the norm in terms of what one can expect from a partner.

For example, upon getting surgery himself, Liberace decides he wants Scott to have some. When his plastic surgeon asks how Scott should look, Liberace dictates that he wants Scott to look like him. Liberace also floats the idea of adopting Scott which, again, strikes you as being a little bit strange.

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One of the huge triumphs in Soderbergh’s direction, and in the quality of the writing, is that despite the stranger elements of the story and relationship, the film never passes judgment. The things that happen are presented as events and key parts of the story, but we are never invited to laugh at them, sneer at them or judge them in any way. In fact, we are treated to a sympathetic film; the Liberace that Michael Douglas portrays is equal parts eccentric and likeable.

It is the chemistry between Douglas and Matt Damon that the film ultimately hinges on, and thankfully the pair deliver in a big way. Together they create a relationship that is entirely believable. In it’s more tender moments it is genuinely heartwarming, and when they meet stormier weathers it is certainly moving. The casting of Douglas is something of an inspired choice; he just gets everything right and dominates the movie. He is excellent throughout and his performance is a joy to see.

Damon also is very good here. His Scott Thorson feels slightly troubled but for large parts of the film Damon keeps this bubbling under the surface, but with the feeling that it could simmer over at any point. More so than Douglas, Damon is required to build throughout the film to a huge crescendo, which is handled brilliant. I love seeing an actor lose themselves in a scene, and Damon does it perfectly on several occasions.

In one scene that is a victory for both acting and directing, Scott is suffering a breakdown of sorts. His line delivery is superb and his non-verbal acting is fantastic. Soderbergh leaves the camera on Damon’s face for the whole of this episode, which is a technique I am a big fan of. It allows us to concentrate on every little emotion the actor is forcing out through their character. Soderbergh also has the camera shaking around Damon, creating the impression that we are experiencing his breakdown with him. I’ve commented on similar touches of brilliance from Soderbergh before, when I wrote about his movie Side Effects. To suffer with a character is quite a thing, and my limited experience of this director’s movies has left me extremely impressed with his ability to place his audience in somebody else’s mind.

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The film feels very grand throughout. The way in which Liberace’s extravagant lifestyle is presented, via his expensive houses and décor, is impressive. The time that we spend with him on stage is also enjoyable, with Douglas engaging his on-audience audience just as well those sat in the cinema auditorium.

I was very impressed with the way Soderbergh dealt with the end of this movie. Some of it is very moving and, despite an image that I found shocking as the film crept towards the finish line, it ended up being a fitting ending. I thought it did justice to everything that had gone before it and was a good, untraditional take on a particular event.

An absorbing story is ultimately made entertaining and engaging by good writing, good direction and two tremendous lead performances. This is Scott Thorson’s story as much as it is Liberace’s and both parts are perfectly cast. Genuinely funny in places, but never judgmental, Soderbergh has expertly pulled off a delicate balancing act. The tale of the eccentric performer is one that deserves to be told, and one worthy of your time.

8/10

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One Response to “Behind The Candelabra”

  1. 1894tony June 21, 2013 at 04:00 #

    another well written review and another that makes me want to watch this film, Im old enough to remember Liberace and his TV shows so seeing this should complete the circle

    cheers

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