Behind the Candelabra (2013)


Director:  Steven Soderbergh
Cast:  Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd
Plot:  Based on the autobiographical novel, the tempestuous 6-year relationship between Liberace and his much younger lover, Scott Thorson, is recounted.

Genre:  Biography / Drama / Romance

Awards:  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).
Runtime:  118min
Rating:  R21 for homosexual theme.

“I love to give the people a good time.”

Reportedly Steven Soderbergh's final film, Behind the Candelabra ranks as one of his finest works, especially in the context of his post-2000s output when the quality of his films somewhat tapered off after the high of Erin Brockovich and Traffic, both nominated for Best Picture and Best Director in 2000. 

He eventually won Best Director for Traffic, but in my opinion he was never the same after Ocean’s Eleven (2001).  Therefore, Behind the Candelabra comes as a mild surprise, a film that is satisfying, solid and quite dazzling in approach. And it sure is a perfect way to mark the end of an acclaimed filmmaker's career.

A biopic needs a great performance by the lead to succeed.  Remember Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980), Ben Kingsley in Gandhi (1981), or as recently as Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (2012)? 

Here in Soderbergh's film, there are two brilliant performances by veteran Michael Douglas and star Matt Damon as famed pianist-entertainer Liberace and his young lover Scott Thorson respectively.  Their Oscar-calibre performances primarily drive the film, but I have a feeling the Oscars will ignore their work here because this has been marketed as a telemovie in the States.  What a waste.

Soderbergh’s precise yet elegant cinematography and the use of lavish sets and costumes give a sense of exuberance and excess.  It is difficult not to be impressed by the craft of Behind the Candelabra, which is quite unlike any the director has ever done, though Soderbergh has done biopics before like Che (2008). 

Although this is a gay-themed film, it is not a provocative one.  It is a fascinating account of a relationship between two men who longed for company, but somehow loneliness continues to haunt them.  Soderbergh chronicles the highs and lows of the relationship, though the story is told rather conventionally, it is never dull and almost always entertaining.

Behind the Candelabra moves at a brisk pace and runs under two hours.  This is credited to a tight screenplay by Richard LaGravenese, whose main subject is always Damon’s character as his “male gaze” informs him and us of Liberace, the flamboyant artiste who kept his life under wraps, but who stuck to values he believed in, even as he struggled to lead a life of joy and satisfaction.  This deserves a viewing.

Verdict:  Brilliant performances by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon drive this lavishly-produced biopic on the famed pianist-entertainer Liberace.


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