Avoiding many of the trappings and feelings a biopic often dive into, Soderbergh again takes another genre and makes it his own. Liberace is the famous figure getting the biopic treatment here, but his long time, late in life lover Scott Thorson is the film’s protagonist. We watch as he gets sucked into Liberace’s world and their relationship morphs over the years into a twisted tale about romance and family.
Soderbergh takes us through these two’s lives over a number of years and we get to experience every element of their relationship that you would expect from a famous star who likes to trade up for a younger model every so many years. There is something to these two though and there is a genuine love between them that is wonderfully brought to life by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. The acting in the film is top notch across the board, but the reveals about Liberace’s private life are just as compelling. Sure everyone knows he was gay, but there are a lot of weird bits in here that are quite revelatory. From his elaborate doting to his desire to want to turn Scott into his son/clone sex partner there are bound to be revelations most casual viewers will not have known. It’s the chemistry between the two leads that will ultimately keep you sucked in though as the two deliver some of their career best performances.
Douglas is the real standout as Liberace as we haven’t ever really seen him quite like this. From the voice to the charisma, it is great to see Douglas in a role that lets him not just brood, but actually smile as well. He is great at pulling off Liberace up on the stage as well as the more tender moments in bed and his greatest strength is his ability to be sort of a son of a bitch without making you hate him. Matt Damon is almost just as good as Douglas and I love when he gets to play “dumb” in front of the camera. Scott isn’t all looks though, as Damon lets his genuine heart play through. As great as these two are on their own, it’s their work together that really elevates the film to be another great work from Soderbergh. The duo is hilarious together and watching the two of them run the gauntlet of borderline absurdity is a joy to watch. Speaking of joy, Rob Lowe as Dr. Starz. Holy shit, is Lowe amazing in this film. He gives some of the creepiest and most hilarious looks a plastic face can give and you can’t help but wish there was more of this soulless doctor in the film. Soderbergh stacks the rest of the cast with plenty of other familiar faces as well; Dan Aykroyd is the best he has been in years as Liberace’s manager, Scott Bakula is under used as a friend of Scott’s, Debbie Reynolds is excellent as Liberace’s mother and Cheyenne Jackson is hilarious in a wordless role. Paul Reiser, Nicky Katt and Tom Papa also deliver in minor roles.
Soderbergh’s direction is as sharp as ever here and he does a nice job of mixing in some fresh camera work to go along with his trademark look. As Scott dives into drugs and a pair of plastic surgery scenes really stand out among the pack, but there are a number of long takes that really let the actors shine. The set design is incredible, did they film at Liberace’s house?, and I loved the stage segments of the film as Soderbergh keeps them fresh throughout the film. The music and editing of the film is also top notch as things move right along and I can’t imagine a more fitting ending for Scott and Liberace’s story.
Behind the Candelabra might be an HBO Film, but it is still one of the better films released all year. It’s a shame that Soderbergh’s last film didn’t get a wide release on the big screen, it should have, but the quality of his film making doesn’t suffer in the slightest on television. Damon and Douglas are excellent and the supporting cast is just as game as the leads. Do not miss this biopic, not just because it might be Soderbergh’s last film for some time, but because it will surely be one of the year’s best.
Behind the Candelabra is an A-