Behind the Candelabra (2013) – Review

2 Stars

The life of pianist Walter Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his volatile six-year relationship with Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), is explored in this (last) feature film from OSCAR winning director, Steven Soderbergh. Fellow OSCAR winners, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon play the famous musician and his much younger lover. Working from a script credited to Richard LaGravenese based on the tell-all book by Thorson, Behind the Candelabra is a sometimes fascinating but mostly straight forward recounting of a relationship that isn’t worthy of the attention.

Douglas is undeniably appealing as Liberace, game for all the physical and verbal nuances entailed. There is a certain playfulness in the actor’s eyes that hasn’t been seen in quite some time. Damon is also up for the challenge, but the screenplay doesn’t give him any ‘showy’ scenes and his downbeat portrayal, while possibly accurate to the source material, doesn’t give him or his character a chance to make a vivid impression.

Apparently Steven Soderbergh and Michael Douglas first discussed the idea of collaborating on a Liberace film 13 years ago while on the set of Traffic. The idea was ultimately postponed for many years before production took place. One of the many obstacles that faced the director and star, was a reluctance to producing a traditional bio-pic, and difficultly finding a writer to present a fresh viewpoint. I don’t think they were successful in reaching either goal.

There are a few fascinatingly odd moments, including a bizarre plastic surgery angle and a father-son complex that comes off as creepy when the filmmakers were striving for affectionate. The story reaches its inevitable conclusion when the young boy-toy, Thorson becomes addicted to drugs and prescription medication. The third act is on auto-pilot, grazing over the details of Liberace’s contraction and eventual passing from the AIDS virus. I realize this isn’t a documentary, but as a viewer who has limited exposure to the life of this wildly talented and flamboyant musician, I wanted more details. In the end I was expecting substance and in true Vegas fashion, Behind the Candelabra is all gloss and no depth.

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Star: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd

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