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Overall Rating

Awesome: 29.03%
Worth A Look49.46%
Average: 10.75%
Pretty Bad: 6.45%
Total Crap: 4.3%

11 reviews, 27 user ratings

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by Stephen Groenewegen

"Sex education"
4 stars

Kinsey is far from your quaint period biopic. “The forces of chastity are moving once again”. Sexologist Alfred Kinsey died in 1956, but his comment is eerily relevant today. With scared Western governments busy reviving the repressive conservative values of 50 years ago, Kinsey’s life and work are ripe for examination.

Alfred Charles Kinsey (Liam Neeson) was a biologist, taxonomist and pioneering researcher of sexual behaviour. He was born in 1894 to a strict Methodist father (John Lithgow in effective fire-and-brimstone mode) and timid mother (a seen-but-not-heard Veronica Cartwright). For Kinsey Sr, the invention of the zipper represents a speedy decline into moral oblivion. Young Kinsey grows up a loner child with a weak heart and a fascination for nature. Finally rebelling against his father, he leaves home to study science. In 1920, he takes up the post of assistant professor of Zoology at Indiana University.

Writer-director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) artfully skips through these establishing scenes. Much of the information comes in a simple but ingenious black and white pre-credit sequence. Kinsey has his newly appointed team of researchers (Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O’Donnell and Timothy Hutton) audition for their posts by taking Kinsey’s own sex history. Not only do we pick up the man’s background, but we’re also offered a first insight into the “what, who, why and how” of the research project.

That project leads to Kinsey collecting more than 18,000 sex histories from American men and women in the 1940s. He published his findings in two factual volumes - Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female (1953). Despite how sexually frank we may consider ourselves now, his conclusions on our sexual habits are still surprising – higher-than-expected percentages of subjects indulged in pre-marital sex and extra-marital affairs or admitted to masturbation and homosexual experiences. That Americans lionised Kinsey for his work on men and demonised his study of women suggests he was ahead of his time - the explosion of feminist theory was another 20 years off.

The core of Kinsey is Condon’s absorbing recreation of the sex study and the conditions that called for it, namely the general population’s shocking ignorance in all matters sexual. On a limited budget ($10 million), Condon demonstrates the enormous scope of Kinsey’s undertaking. All too often, biopics mire themselves in the personal lives of their subjects, forgetting that it was their life’s work that made them compelling in the first place. Condon establishes Kinsey’s marriage to freethinking student Clara McMillen (Laura Linney) as crucial to the story and delves into the unorthodox inter-relationships that Kinsey encouraged amongst his core team of researchers. He also conveys Kinsey’s (relatively radical) attitude that everyone’s sexual behaviour is unique, meaning there is no “normal” when it comes to sexuality - only “common” and “rare”.

Liam Neeson is tall and rangy, bearish and gentle; capable of occasionally startling, I would not normally think of him as especially charismatic. But his portrait of Kinsey is intense and never boring. Although likeable, a distant look in his eyes prevents him being easily readable. Laura Linney is a plucky and intelligent actress who is always fun to watch. Unfortunately, her role as Kinsey’s wife is strictly confined to the generic strong-woman-who-nevertheless-stands-by-her-man. Completing his recent trifecta of strong performances is Peter Sarsgaard, who also featured prominently in Shattered Glass and Garden State. He offers a characteristically understated and intriguing portrayal of a sexually inquisitive researcher. Lynn Redgrave offsets the downbeat tone surrounding the end of Kinsey’s life with a startling single scene cameo as Kinsey’s final interview subject, a woman liberated by his research findings.

Kinsey does what a biopic should. It presents a topic with continuing relevance, uncovering a subject that many of us now take for granted. Although Condon does his best to sidestep clichés, scenes of Kinsey’s childhood and decline into ill health have more than a touch of the familiar about them. Best about the movie is its equal exploration of the man and his work; it helps immeasurably that both are worthy of study.

Kinsey’s matter-of-fact approach to sexuality and his non-judgemental attitudes still arouse controversy today. Refreshingly, Condon’s Kinsey is not a pre-digested meal. Unusually for a biopic, you’re left with plenty to think over and talk about afterwards.

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originally posted: 01/11/05 13:11:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/03/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 4 stars
7/28/07 McGregger TERRIBLE. The acting, script, plot, casting. Bad from top to bottom. 1 stars
7/25/05 SL On-screen sausage due to gay director, but otherwise unecessary 3 stars
6/29/05 BoyInTheDesignerBubble Peter Sarsgaard naked. 5 stars from me! 5 stars
6/25/05 Mr Fluffy Apparently, Liam Neeson has a rather huge cock. So he tells me. 4 stars
3/31/05 DavidOz V good, suddenly knowing the context made the science live 5 stars
3/27/05 Victor Toledo I liked this film. It did what it set out to do. 5 stars
3/11/05 Nick Boyd Great screenplay and very good acting 5 stars
2/11/05 Liam Neeson? I thought that was Ralph Finnes!! Sex and the shitty. 3 stars
1/30/05 Casey Tells okay 3 stars
1/29/05 buddy garrett Neeson's performance is good but there is nothing else. 3 stars
1/14/05 Neil Pretty good 4 stars
12/31/04 Landshark Breeding for sophisticates beats sex for dummies any day 4 stars
12/06/04 Travis Bickle Movie was a breath of fresh air compared to most movies lately. Not masterpiece but damn... 4 stars
12/05/04 Doreen finally an intelligent movie emerges out of the Hollywood junk 5 stars
12/04/04 Titus Really quite good, but nothing really stellar. 4 stars
11/22/04 Mack Mangham An Oscar for Neeson coming this way. Great movie, great acting 5 stars
11/20/04 Desperado a pervert huh, guess you voted for Bush 5 stars
11/17/04 Naka Oh, shut the hell up Gray. 5 stars
11/11/04 Graham Dr. Reisman is one of the biggest frauds of the past 50 years, and her allegations are bunk 5 stars
11/11/04 Kelly Glorify a PERVERT? No thanks. 1 stars
11/04/04 MMM Shouldn't opinions be based on stellar performances, rather than subject matter? 4 stars
10/31/04 Hugo Haas Smug and campy failure, second half a complete mess 1 stars
10/25/04 Sinick LIES! Kinsey was a child molester & rapist! Read about it from Dr. Reisman or Dr. Makow 1 stars
9/15/04 MM Gonna get Oscar noms for sure 4 stars
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  12-Nov-2004 (R)
  DVD: 17-May-2005



Directed by
  Bill Condon

Written by
  Bill Condon

  Liam Neeson
  Laura Linney
  Peter Sarsgaard
  Chris O'Donnell
  Oliver Platt
  Timothy Hutton

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