Scott Thorson, a young bisexual man raised in foster homes, is introduced to flamboyant entertainment giant Liberace and quickly finds himself in a romantic relationship with the legendary pianist. Swaddled in wealth and excess, Scott and Liberace have a long affair, one that eventually Scott begins to find suffocating. Kept away from the outside world by the flashily effeminate yet deeply closeted Liberace, and submitting to extreme makeovers and even plastic surgery at the behest of his lover, Scott eventually rebels. When Liberace finds himself a new lover, Scott is tossed on the street. He then seeks legal redress for what he feels he has lost. But throughout, the bond between the young man and the star never completely tears. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This is a first-rate piece of work by Mr Soderbergh and his team (kudos to Ellen Mirojnick's flamboyant costumes and Howard Cummings' outrageous interiors). The otherwise excellent screenplay by Richard LaGravanese loses a little steam around two-thirds of the way through, but recovers to give a genuinely touching conclusion.
Nominally this is a biopic. In fact, it uses the biopic format to examine a particular relationship in depth. The narrative focus is on the dynamic between two people rather than the inner turmoil of one. This, as well as the director's good taste, has kept at bay the sprawling pretentiousness and sentimentality which usually infest the genre, regardless of how good the central performances are: films as diverse as LA VIE EN ROSE and MILK have been scuppered in this way. Not so BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, which is an altogether more sophisticated affair.
The acting is dazzling. Michael Douglas, in a beautifully-written role, communicates the complexity of a real human being, not just a two-dimensional celebrity. At the same time, he gives full value to Liberace's famous showmanship. A star performance, sure - the subject demands it - but also much, much more.
Matt Damon is a revelation. For me, up till now, he has represented the worst kind of dead-behind-the-eyes, don't-dare-express-anything movie acting. The nearest I came to thinking any different was his turn as the scout in the Coen Brothers' remake of TRUE GRIT. In BEHIND THE CANDELABRA he displays a range I never thought he had in him. The character moves from naivety through rage to despair and on to quiet understanding. Really, really terrific.
The two leads create a totally believable relationship between their characters, in all its aspects. A triumph.
The icing on the cake is the supporting cast, led by Dan Aykroyd and Scott Bakula, and spangled with cameos from Rob Lowe, Debbie Reynolds, Bruce Ramsay, Cheyenne Jackson and Paul Reiser.
Here in England we're fortunate to see this film on big screens. As is well known, it was financed by a TV company (HBO) and will not be released theatrically in the USA. That tells a sad story about the American movie industry, from which an independent-minded artist like Mr Soderbergh is wise to walk away.
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