In Depth

Michael Douglas gives 'best performance' as Liberace

Critics hail veteran star's camp, tacky turn in 'Behind the Candelabra' as landmark role

douglas-liberace.jpg

MICHAEL DOUGLAS gives the performance of his career as Liberace in Steven Soderbergh's film portrait of the flamboyant American pianist, say the critics.

Soderbergh has said that Behind the Candelabra— which was produced by American television network HBO for a paltry $5million — was "too gay" for Hollywood studios, which refused to finance it. Had they been braver, says The Independent's Geoffrey McNab, they would now have a serious Oscar contender on their hands thanks to Douglas's "quite wonderful" portrayal of Liberace.

The 68-year-old actor "captures brilliantly Liberace's showmanship and outrageous camp qualities as well as the darker side of his character without ever lapsing into caricature," writes McNab.

Writing in the London Evening Standard, David Sexton says the "stunningly good film" gave Douglas his "best role for a long time, let's even say ever". The star, who made his name playing macho characters in movies such as Wall Street and Falling Down, wasn't an obvious choice to play the gay pianist. But he combines "genuine glamour" with a "clear view of how tacky and gimcrack Liberace always was, how saggy underneath the wigs, the capes and the glitter".

Sexton also lavishes praise on Douglas's co-star Matt Damon, who plays Scott Thorson, Liberace's live-in lover for five years in the late 1970s. In Damon's hands, he says, the transformation of Thorson from a "good-natured country boy", into a "nightmarish addict" fed a cocktail of drugs by a slimy plastic surgeon played by Rob Lowe, is entirely convincing.

The Daily Telegraph's Robbie Collin agrees that Douglas's Liberace is "one of the greatest performances" the actor has ever given. It combines "slackness and precision into a brilliantly unsettling yet lovable whole: his hair stands as high as the mane on a Chinese lion statue; his voice is a kitten's purr, fringed with reptilian threat".

There is praise too for Soderbergh, who announced his retirement from filmmaking earlier this year. That's too bad, says Collin, because the brilliance of Behind the Candelabra shows "exactly why the industry needs him".

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