I always just knew of Liberace as that sequined piano player from way back when. Of course, as I and people nowadays know him as a gay icon and often a punchline for that type of humour. But, as the film portrays, it’s fascinating seeing how in the 1970s he was obviously gay, but made sure to the nth degree that the public didn’t know that, and that he kept up appearances as a straight man. Obviously, back then it would have been a killer to his career, and the danger and threat of AIDS wasn’t even a thought in people’s minds.
Not knowing really anything about Liberace, I can only understand how he was to a certain degree, but Michael Douglas portrayed him perfectly to what I imagine he was like, or at least played to how we view him. It’s almost scary how good Douglas is in the role, inhabiting him so expertly that it was often off-putting when he showed off his eccentricities and plying into Matt Damon’s character. Damon is equally great as what ends up being Liberace’s boy toy, a troubled individual who learns to love fame when attached to Liberace and all the spoils that come with it.
It’s a common narrative we’ve seen before, especially in bio-pics, Damon is the hot, young thing that is unsure of all this attention, but eventually embraces it, almost to an unhealthy degree. He gets comfortable, and a little too steadfast in his position. Then he realizes he’s more expendable then he ever thinks, and is so easily replaced, much to his chagrin. We’ve seen this before, but the framing of the story and the acting that delivers it makes it feel like it’s the first time we’re seeing it.
Soderbergh’s directing isn’t flashy, it hardly ever is, but’s it’s competent and confident like always, and often lets the story play out rather than try and enhance it unnecessarily through camera tricks. There is one scene in particular that stands out, Douglas and Damon are walking through Liberace’s lavish house as Damon complains they don’t get out and do stuff together, Soderbergh’s tracks them through the house, showing off the incredible luxury and prominence these men live in.
I think largely Behind The Candelabra is successful because it’s consistently interesting and explores a topic that few know all that much about. I always knew of the man, but never really understood who Liberace was and Soderbergh, Douglas and Damon paint a perfect picture.