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Behind The Candelabra - Review

Behind The Candelabra

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

STEVEN Soderbergh’s reportedly final film before a self-imposed hiatus is also one of his finest – and that’s saying something!

An expose of flamboyant pianist Liberace and his secret relationship with Scott Thorson, the latest in a long line of lovers, it’s a funny yet sensitive and increasingly dark peek behind the candelabra that serves as both a complex relationship drama and an astute commentary on the hypocrisy of celebrity and beauty.

What’s more, it’s driven by two powerhouse performances from Michael Douglas (Liberace) and Matt Damon (Thorson).

Based upon Thorson’s own memoir, the film exists in the decade prior to Liberace’s death as Thorson, a pet carer and aspiring veterinarian, becomes seduced by Liberace, moulded (quite literally) in his image and slowly discarded as so many of the performer’s lovers did.

Driven by a witty yet insightful script from Richard LaGravenese, Soderbergh’s film is as easy to become seduced by as Liberace before gradually becoming more serious and, ultimately, even poignant.

It’s also quite eye-opening and, at times, provocative (especially the sight of Douglas and Damon throwing themselves into the love scenes, albeit tastefully so). The most amazing thing about Liberace (talent aside) was how he kept his homosexuality secret for so long, even successfully suing a British tabloid at one point for daring to suggest he was anything other than a ladies man.

Behind the showmanship, though, was a highly complex individual – a charismatic risk taker who systematically took on lovers until they started to want too much and ditching them.

In Thorson’s case, he sought to become a father, lover, best friend and brother, even going so far as to convince him to have plastic surgery to be more like him. Thorson, for his part, was a mostly willing participant until becoming addicted to drugs and falling out of favour once Liberace’s eyes began to wander again.

Soderbergh captures this relationship perfectly, remaining careful not to take sides but seldom shying away from the uglier side of things.

By doing so, he draws memorable performances from both Douglas and Damon; the former tapping into both the showmanship of Liberace and the often conflicted man that existed within. Damon, meanwhile, charts Thorson’s journey from wide eyed wonderment to bitter rejection with relish.

There’s an irony surrounding the film too: in that it’s very existence exposes how few steps have been made by Hollywood in embracing homosexuality. The film went straight to TV (thanks to HBO) in the US because studios wouldn’t back a film that was so inherently gay, thereby depriving Douglas and Damon of potential awards recognition on the biggest stage.

It’s UK cinematic embrace suggests a more liberal attitude that one assumes will be recognised by BAFTA come awards time. It’s a tribute to the film’s success – and enjoyment – that it can be praised in those terms.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 118mins
UK Release Date: June 7, 2013