Film Review: Behind the Candelabra – 8/10

‘What a story. It’s got everything but a fire at the orphanage…’

Behind the Candelabra, review

Liberace is one of those names that I heard a lot growing up but it meant nothing to me. Until watching Behind the Candelabra – the warts and all biopic about his stormy relationship with Scott Thorson – I had always thought Liberace was a fashion designer or something along those lines. Turns out he was a world famous pianist, one of the most highly paid musicians in showbiz. Once again, my ignorance knows no bounds…

Liberace (Michael Douglas) lives a life of palatial luxury with a string of younger men following in his wake. The front runner for his affections is Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), an unassuming country boy with a lot of ambition. Behind the Candelabra follows their relationship from its passionate beginnings to its tragic end.

First off, if like Catherine Zeta Jones you find Michael Douglas to be irresistible then this is the film for you. That guy never has a shirt on in this movie. Absolutely rocking the (grand) dad bod. On a less flippant note, he also produces possibly the finest performance of his career here. Douglas preens and schemes his way through Behind the Candelabra, capturing every facet of Liberace’s outrageous personality. Matt Damon matches him every step of the way with both men utterly lost in their roles and the chemistry that they share.

Director Steven Soderbergh packs a hell of a lot into two hours, but the pacing is perfect – the characters are given time to breathe but never at the cost of slowing the movie down. When the inevitable tragic conclusion finally hits, Soderbergh and his cast handle it beautifully. Not too sentimental, not too distant. This is a master at work.

The supporting cast do a fine job as well, with Dan Aykroyd and Rob Lowe particularly impressing, but this is the Damon and Douglas show. If, like me, you didn’t know much of anything about Liberace going in, don’t let that be a barrier. Come for the story, stay for the acting.