Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Cannes 2013: Behind The Candelabra Review

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Richard LaGravenese

Starring: Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroyd, Scott Bakula, Debbie Reynolds

Synopsis: Scott Thorson (Damon) is invited to a performance by Liberace (Douglas) one night and allowed back stage after. As the two meet they instantly fall for one another. They quickly move in together and the film chronicles Thorson’s life with the flamboyant pianist.

For a film deemed ”too gay” to warrant a theatrical release (instead financed as a TV movie for HBO), there is nothing overtly explicit in Behind the Candelabra. The film also follows a linear structure, with the drama and disequilibrium found in your average theatrical feature, giving it the quality of a box-office attraction. Furthermore, with set and costume design meticulous and extravagant, it’s a wonder and a shame to know it won’t get a wide release.

Behind the Candelabra marks Steven Soderbergh’s last directorial effort, worrying for contemporary cinema and in relation to how few will see an end to the efforts of a great auteur. On a positive note, the film is brilliant and utterly enjoyable, making a strong case for Soderbergh’s legacy in film. Shot and edited with ease and perfection (a nod to Soderbergh’s almost innate skill with the film medium), there is a fantastic art to the film. Above all, however, Behind the Candelabra has Matt Damon and Michael Douglas giving their best ever performances.

Due to the platform malarkey (TV and not cinema) there is another disappointment awaiting the film upon release. What should have earned each actor an Academy Award (or, at the very least, nominations) will never happen because of its classification. Golden Globes and the Emmys will already have Douglas and Damon’s names etched into the statuettes, though in the UK these awards won’t garner as much promotion as the Oscars. Without a doubt - one would hope – word of mouth will spread on the daring and dazzling performances, and talk alone will honour both actors.

Playing extraordinarily against type, Michael Douglas is astonishing as Liberace. His whitened dentures and glittery costumes vitalize the screen, but eventually a shadow slightly shades the 68 year-old actor. Matt Damon plays Thorson with a quiet anxiousness, pushed to one side by Douglas’ larger-than-life character. However, gradually over the film’s runtime Thorson’s dark insecurities take over and all you can think about is Damon. Thorson implodes into a mess of a man, with Damon physically changing to portray such upset. Without seeing them as separate performances, the chemistry between the two is entirely authentic, each seemingly born to play these roles.

Scott Thorson is still alive and he couldn’t have asked for a better actor to fill his biopic shoes, and those of his ex-lover. Applause should also be directed to writer Richard LaGravenese who finds every touching, quirky and dramatic part of the pair’s life to scribe an engaging script.

Soderbergh’s flair will never be forgotten, certainly not with this as his last. Behind the Candelabra is expertly executed but it’s not about the technical attributes – this is a film illuminating performance to which Douglas and Damon unquestionably perfect.
Behind the Candelabra was competing in the Official Competition selection at Cannes 2013. Also posted on LiveForFilms

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