Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe, Debbie Reynolds, Scott Bakula, Dan Aykroyd
Written by: Richard LeGravenese, (based on the book by) Scott Thorson and Alex Thorleifson
Running Time: 118 mins
Release date: 7th June 2013
Earlier this year, Steven Soderbergh announced that he was retiring from film making with the thriller, Side Effects. A few months later and look, we have another Steven Soderbergh film! Actually, this is a TV movie produced by HBO but here it’s released in cinemas and so maybe we haven’t seen the director. This is a very different creature to the early film, a movie version about one of America’s most glamourous and outrageous entertainers and the secret he hid for years.
Scott Thorson is a young man helping to look after pets. he gets introduced to pianist and showman, Liberace. So begins a turbulent six-year relationship in which Liberace, hiding his homosexuality to the public, gives Scott everything, including a new face but with his refusal to come out of the closet, Scott’s drug taking and his relationship with a younger man, Scott ‘s paranoia leads the pair to split but not without a fight.
Soderbergh, working with a much smaller budget than usual, this, nevertheless, means he has to give up his visual flair. It’s an absolute treat to watch, with its soft focusing and use of browns and yellows in the colouring. He also has the good sense in employing two of Hollywood’s finest to play the secret lovers.
This is Soderbergh trump card. Michael Douglas is the most unlikely person in the world to play the flamboyant Liberace and yet, once you have seen the film, you cannot think of anyone else who could play the role. With his enormous fur coats and sequins abound, Douglas isn’t just playing Liberace, he is Liberace. It’s a tour-de-force and one that screams awards. It’s a pity he won’t win an Oscar next year, as the film wasn’t released in America because it was felt it was, and I quote, “Too gay!”
In the less showy role of Scott, Matt Damon proves he is more than just Jason Bourne. It’s a subtler and more controlled performance and while Douglas gets to camp it up, Damon grows from naive simple small town boy to a man scorned. Separately, the pair are magnificent, together, they are incredible.
Let’s not forget the supporting cast who are all on top form. Dan Akyroyd as Liberace’s long-time agent and the man who kept his secret from the world, Seymour Heller, is the best he has been in a long time, while we get a brief cameo from screen legend Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s mother.
The real surprise and almost unrecognisable, is Rob Lowe, as Liberace’s plastic surgeon, Jack Startz. With his overworked eyes and tiny smile, he is only on screen for a little while yet he makes a massive impression.
It’s the chemistry between the two leads that holds the film together. Sometimes touching, sometimes very funny and sometimes uncomfortable, Douglas and Damon get to show that even Hollywood stars can have that spark, whether they be male or female. It’s a very brave move on all who decided and one that definitely works.
Soderbergh never allows the film to mock their relationship but, in a way, to celebrate it. It never sensationalises it, nor does it belittle what they had. In fact, there are moments when you feel genuinely moved by the affections that they showed. This is thanks to a first rate script by Richard LeGravenese, which Soderbergh obvious respects as he allows his actors to deliver the lines without ever once shouting in it at your face.
The final act does slightly head down the road of cliche but that can be forgiven. This is a delightful slice of entertainment with two fantastic central performances. So now we can ask…is this Soderbergh’s final film? Or are we expecting another soon? Let’s hope it isn’t because this is a man who fully understands his subject matter and can make a wonderfully impressive biopic. He will be sorely missed.