What are the perverse side effects of repression, extreme fame and wealth? Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra showcases the strange conditions inside the isolated private life of Liberace (Michael Douglas) through the eyes of his great love Scott Thorson (Matt Damon).
After a chance meeting Scott (Damon), an animal trainer working in the film industry, is whisked into the outrageously flamboyant private life of Liberace (Douglas) which leads to a long secret romance.
Steven Soderbergh renders the sun bleached Las Vegas landscape and the open plan living, in all its kitch glory, with warm adoring photography. He balances his performers essential camp flair with a very casual perplexed disposition. From the outset Scott and his friend Bob Black (Scott Bakula) can’t believe that the general public aren’t aware that Liberace is as gay as the day is long. The power of screen writer Richard LaGravanese and Soderbergh’s vision here is dropping us into the crystal frosted world of Liberace and incrementally increasing the doses of his unhinged narcissism so that, we like Scott, begin to normalise the total insanity of the behaviour. From adoption (under the guise of security) only for you to sodomise your adoptee to diet pills and plastic surgery to mould you into your partner’s image – it’s an abject love. It’s that ultra conservatism paired with obsessive fame idolatry that fostered (and in contemporary times continues to be a petri dish for) these real larger than life, damaged characters.
Michael Douglas most iconic characters are universally tough, ‘hetero’ dudes and it’s wonderful seeing him retreat into Liberace. It’s a combination of warmth, charm and passive aggressive manipulation that makes for delectable viewing. Matt Damon is one of the actors of our generation. His wonderfully down to earth Thorson is the window that we peek through to see the routine absurd of life with Liberace. His physical transformation is notable but watching how he’s moulded and his emotions cauterised is truly shocking. It’s a powerhouse one two punch. Support from Dan Ackroyd is nice surprise but Rob Lowe’s plastic surgeon, devoid of morals, and with the most hilarious extreme facelift is impossible to watch without doubling over laughing. (See the internet memes for hours of free fun)
The minor flaws in the piece are really the lengthy running time and that unfortunately you watch a slow, yet inevitably, decay of an increasingly gross relationship.
Behind the Candelabra is a fascinating peek into the secret life of an icon; the sad (reportedly) last hurrah of a cinematic maverick and proof that Douglas and Damon are fabulous.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Ackroyd, Rob Lowe
Behind the Candelabra is released in Australia on the 25 July 2013.
Distributed by Roadshow Films.