Steven Soderbergh’s Behind The Candelabra is an intimate and often funny portrait of the relationship between Michael Douglas’ Liberace and Matt Damon’s Scott Thorson (it’s based on his memoir). The 2013 film is a small and confined piece and Richard LaGravenese’s script often feels like a stage-play. The drama plays-out in close quarters and we get to live with these men and share their lives.
Michael Douglas delivers a fearless performance as Liberace. If it’s not the best performance of his career, then it’s his most emotionally naked. He touches on moments here that are not only the culmination of his work as an actor, but also his life as a man. Douglas’ recent health troubles make the last act of the film even more poignant and there are moments here that ring emotionally true. This is a role that Douglas needed to play, and he gives it his all.
Matt Damon is equally impressive as Thorson, throwing raw passion and powerful paranoia into scenes with great fervour – this is without a doubt his finest screen moment. The now middle-aged actor may not be able to pass for the young man that Thorson was when he first met Liberace, but he brings a naiveté to the character, something he is able to build on as the film progresses.
Soderbergh ditches the usual biopic format, deciding to focus on Liberace’s later life. He discards the star’s successful early years, showing him at his lowest emotional and creative ebb (when he was performing two shows a day in Las Vegas). It’s a clever move, even if we never do get to see the full illumination behind the candelabra.