Friday, 7 June 2013

Film Review: Behind The Candelabra (2013)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Richard LaGravenese
Stars: Matt Damon, Michael Douglas and Rob lowe

Steven Soderbergh says he is no longer making films because he’s disheartened with the Hollywood system and the pressure to make $120 million before a film even gets greenlit. With a film of the quality of Side Effects taking just $32 million in the US, it’s little wonder a project about the secret gay relationships of Liberace was deemed “too special” for most major production companies.

In his own words he said of Behind The Candelabra that “the material was too ‘special’ to gross $70 million. So the obstacle here isn’t just that special subject matter... it’s still mysterious the process whereby people decide if they’re either going to go to a movie or not go to a movie.”

So audiences should thank HBO for enabling Soderbergh to make this, his last feature length film for it is one of his best films in either celluloid or his recent affair with digital film making.

Yet again Behind The Candelabra is unlike anything else the director has attempted before cementing his reputation as a progressive film maker, always looking to experiment rather than sticking to tried and tested formulas which guarantee the money rolling in. This is a brave and unflattering film from one of the most important American film makers of the last 30 years.

The story of the relationship between Liberace (Michael Douglas) and the much younger Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) (over 40 years age difference when they met in 1976) in the film is an uncomfortable one to watch; the plastic surgery Scott undergoes is at once funny and distressing as such a young man changes his face forever; the jaw-dropping extravagance of Liberace’s home and lifestyle is both beautiful, overwhelming and overpowering; the talk of Liberace’s legal adoption of his sexual partner is both a sign of affection and a weird sense of ownership over another person. There is no question of whether the men loved each other but what love means to them both is ambiguous.

Soderbergh’s usual use of natural lighting and yellow and brown tones are present throughout and work well in the settings of this film, especially in Liberace’s home which is often lavishly golden by design of the homeowner. The quintessential camera movement in the film is a terrific work of pulling focus on Matt Damon when he’s high on drugs; the sense of disorientation and mindlessness is evoked wonderfully and is a highly effective piece of camerawork. Add to this, superb costumes and attention to detail of the period setting, and this film never looks as if it were made for TV for its US release and with names like Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, and Rob Lowe in the lead roles, the film never suffers from a lack of acting talent either. Expect Emmy and Golden Globe nominations all round, and deservedly so.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Despite the excellent acting and direction, the film does suffer slightly from a familiarity in the story. The drink, drugs, and dependency of the excessive lifestyle which leads to the downfall of a character is nothing new, nor is the financial disputes which turn into an all-you-can-get frenzy, nor is the boy in need of a father figure theme. The story shortcomings, however, doesn’t detract from this being a highly enjoyable and entertaining film and a phenomenal (possible) final year for Soderbergh as a film director.

2013 is all the better for having him release not one, but two of his finest films.

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