Being only two decades old, there was something about Michael Douglas’ performance in Behind the Candelabra that I was never going to fully understand. Archive footage of documentaries and performances are the only experience and knowledge I have of the real Liberace. Steven Soderbergh’s latest release was turned down by movie studios in America as nobody seemed to want to finance such an overtly “gay” piece of cinema. The project was eventually released as a television movie for American audiences. After great success at international film festivals, including Cannes, the film has now been distributed into UK cinemas. Behind the Candelabra focuses on Liberace and his relationship with Scott Thorson. Based upon the autobiographical novel by Thorson, the film ventures into the conscience of the two men and explores the passion, turmoil and eventual lawsuit that came as a result of their relationship. Focussing on the beauty of our natural reaction to see only what we want to see, Behind the Candelabra is a film that is brimming with passion and complexities and packs an almighty punch.
Despite my lack of familiarity with Liberace, I could not deny how outstanding Douglas’ performance was. Michael Douglas, a man I associate with cold-faced, ruthless characters, vanishes under a mountain of jewellery, fur-coats and wigs. He successfully portrays the inner demons and insecurities that plague his character and is able to do this in a truly refined way. Matt Damon gives an equally compelling performance as Scott and his emotional vulnerability and obsessive nature cements the believability of both characters and adds rawness to the relationship that we watch flourish, unravel and crumble. More than anything, Damon displays passionate anger, rooted in love, in a magnificent way. The characters are self-involved, insecure, jealous and unhealthily obsessive but you find yourself caring more and more about their happiness, despite their occasional ugly natures. The relationship is heart-wrenchingly fantastic and flawed. The friendship that staples the characters together is highlighted by Douglas and Damon’s natural on-screen chemistry. Despite the comedy and several bizarre elements within the narrative, it is this central relationship that draws you in and connects you to Behind the Candelabra; a truly outstanding display of the agony of lost love.
Rob Lowe gives a hilarious, and very surreal, performance as the doctor employed by Liberace. His performance provided comical relief from the wonderfully created claustrophobia of the rest of the plot. Other supporting actors and actresses included Dan Aykroyd and the marvellous Debbie Reynolds. Behind the Candelabra suffocates its lead characters; the domestic captivity drawing the audience further into their world. My lack of knowledge of Liberace demonstrates just how enjoyable this film is whether or not you have a personal interest in the subject matter. The direction is well executed. The music is charming and the whole film is well structured and intelligently put together. The raw emotion that fills this film is a rare and wonderful thing. It will certainly be quite some time until I cry in the cinema to that extent again.
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