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The Liberace biopic is a glitzy free-for-all - and also one of the most disturbing movies of the last few years...
HBO / 118 Minutes / 2013 / Unrated / Street Date: September 17, 2013
Hollywood’s well-documented fear of what Steven Soderbergh would like us to believe is one of his last cinematic undertakings is easy to comprehend when watching Behind the Candelabra, but not for the reasons many might initially think. The easy assumption is that even with the collective Oscar bling Michael Douglas and Matt Damon have in their respective living rooms, the act of watching these actors play men in love with one another would simply be took much for the American movie-watching demographic to stomach.
Yet the thrilling conundrum of Behind the Candelabra isn’t any form of gallivanting homosex: this is a love story of two seriously messed-up human beings who can’t figure out how to proactively utilize the connection they share. Soderbergh doesn’t flinch in terms of showcasing these men being amorous with one another, and (more importantly) his film isn’t afraid of following them down the rabbit-hole of their deep, dark Hollywood dreams.
Honestly, it’s best to go into Behind the Candelabra with as little information as possible. There’s Liberace (Douglas), of course, and the strapping young buck named Scott Thorson (Damon) who he meets along the way, but these are almost placeholder archetypes within the movie’s looming overall message. Once you take a moment to focus on Rob Lowe as Liberace’s plastic surgeon or Debbie Reynolds as his mother, it’s easy to see that there’s a lot more going on here than just a gay love story gone wrong.
Behind the Candelabra isn’t a perfect film, and upon a second viewing, many of its charms that were insanely evocative the first time around were markedly tampered, but it’s easy to call this a major work by major cinematic participants. Damon and Douglas will have to settle for Emmys instead of Oscars for their work – Soderbergh should be able to pick up more accolades in the boob tube department, as well – and they’re well-deserved: this twisted, black fantasy of a romance film is one of the more grippingly disquieting entertainments of 2013.