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Overall Rating
3.92

Awesome: 29.03%
Worth A Look49.46%
Just Average: 10.75%
Pretty Crappy: 6.45%
Sucks: 4.3%

11 reviews, 27 user ratings


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Kinsey
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by Brad Wilber

"A resounding KINSEY four! Wait.. I mean....."
4 stars

If sex sells, then why isn’t KINSEY a more commercial film? Probably because there is neither any Nora Ephron banter nor any Adrian Lyne steam. KINSEY deals mostly with attitudes about sex as it presents the life of famed researcher Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956). For all the protest the movie has incurred, its purpose is certainly not to titillate or to paint morality as an encumbrance. Writer-director Bill Condon (GODS AND MONSTERS) keeps us thinking hard, not breathing hard, and when he examines the consequences of a detached regard for sex, he marshals as much screen time for the costs as for the benefits. In a season brimming with biopics, all with varied readings on the accuracy meter, KINSEY has garnered especially high marks for adherence to fact and for openness to complexity. If you’re an avid talent-watcher, then KINSEY is for you, too—the cast is large and distinguished.

The movie shows the young Alfred Kinsey (Benjamin Walker, offering a superb physical foreshadowing of Liam Neeson as the adult version) growing up in a household where a puritanical clergyman father (John Lithgow) keeps the missus (Veronica Cartwright) very cowed and makes the sons hate themselves for any concession to their sex drive. Kinsey eventually earns multiple degrees in biology and, in 1920, takes up a teaching post at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. His pet project entails crisscrossing the country to amass a huge collection of gall wasp specimens. When he weds one of his keenest students, Clara “Mac” McMillen (Laura Linney), they find themselves needing a medical procedure before they can consummate their marriage in relative comfort. Over time, Kinsey becomes a non-threatening ear for student couples wondering if their techniques, or hang-ups, or sources of pleasure are “normal.” “Prok,” as Professor Kinsey is nicknamed, grows concerned enough about their sexual befuddlement to lobby the new college president (Oliver Platt) for a marriage course. The prez is reluctant until he sits in on the only comparable lecture experience—a screamingly out-of-touch “hygiene class” taught by Dr. Thurman Rice (Tim Curry).

Kinsey’s marriage class accelerates a shift in his research interest from insects to humans. He resolves to become the first academician to compile data on people’s sexual behavior (his ambitions for sheer size of sample mirror his wasp collections). He assembles a team of assistants and drills them on an interviewing approach that will set subjects at ease and get them to be forthright. Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard) becomes the closest of the Kinsey aides, but Wardell Pomeroy (Chris O’Donnell) and Paul Gebhard (Timothy Hutton) are also welcomed to the inner circle. (The real-life Gebhard, incidentally, acted as a consultant on the film.) This team gathers many thousands of sex histories nationwide, leading to the publication of the controversial volume “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” in 1948.

I went to see KINSEY with my good friend Dave, who is not only an astute consumer of films but a filmmaker himself. His feeling is that a life story on screen should give unabashed prominence to either the private life or the professional contributions; trying to balance the coverage does disservice to both ends and forces too much ping ponging on the viewer. KINSEY, then, was not a sweeping success for him, as it does try for the dual perspectives. Condon clearly feels that this approach is important, that much of the fascination of Alfred Kinsey lies in how work life colored home life and vice versa. It’s a chicken-or-the-egg question: was Alfred Kinsey sexually obsessed and experimental by nature, and did that drive or even skew his research, or did prolonged steeping in such varied erotic narrative cause an essentially staid man to have difficulty limiting himself to a purely clinical role and to cross the line into endorsing a freer sexual environment?

The movie seems to suggest some of both, but it spends more time exploring the latter. It holds up Kinsey’s work as a breakthrough in cultural candor (by revealing many practices as widespread it reassured many who had labeled themselves isolated misfits), but it also ponders whether reducing sexual behavior to mere biological phenomena represents enlightenment or emotional erosion. Sex is always entwined with self-respect, decency, and fidelity, with their complicated intangibles, and to claim otherwise is to find oneself at odds with most of the rest of humankind. Kinsey argues that since he “cannot measure love,” he has to concentrate on measuring engorgement, and we sense trouble ahead. Kinsey enters an intimate relationship with Clyde Martin and feels bound to tell Mac about it; he seems dumbfounded by her sense of betrayal and plea for restraint. The marriage rebounds genially enough, either due to or in spite of the fact that the bisexual Martin is granted equal access to Mac. All three of Kinsey’s assistants eventually marry but take on more and more participatory functions in his research (the film shows one helping a female subject demonstrate how prone she is to instantaneous and multiple orgasms) and swing openly with other spouses in the group. When Wardell Pomeroy announces at a garden party that he must repair with his wife to private quarters because “his third leg keeps hitting him in the face,” he hardly resembles someone who has advanced the civilization.

The late stages of the film concentrate on the backlash Kinsey faces in the 1950s. His wish had been to produce “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” within a year after his first book, but it doesn’t hit shelves until 1953. The country responds to women’s confessions much less indulgently than to men’s, and Kinsey sees his support at the university wane and his principal funder (Dylan Baker) at the Rockefeller Foundation publicly distance himself from the work. What’s more, Kinsey has to weather legal woes when his shipment of explicit artifacts is stopped at customs. These developments take a toll on Kinsey’s health and confidence.

Neeson gets most everything right. His Kinsey is both a nerd and an undeniably compelling intellectual leader. Our sympathies are engaged enough that we worry about the paths being trod by his character; we don’t write him off as prurient. Linney gives Mac lots of layers as well—whip-smart but mischievous (Dave noted her repertoire of telling glances across crowded rooms), a worthy sounding board for Alfred’s ideas instead of just a hand-patter or silent absorber of his mania. Peter Sarsgaard is called upon to do lots of things that might tempt him to go sardonic and arch with his performance, a la Jude Law in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, but he keeps Clyde ever the soft-spoken acolyte until his last scene.

Timothy Hutton may never again have the opportunity to scale the heights he did in the 1980s with ORDINARY PEOPLE and THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN, but it is good to see him here. Ditto Julianne Nicholson, star of TULLY and saving grace of LITTLE BLACK BOOK; she figures in as Clyde’s wife. Chris O’Donnell doesn’t really pull off an eye-popping comeback, but he’s fine, and plays a, well, different kind of Boy Wonder than when we saw him last. John Lithgow is highly watchable--it’s too bad that his intractable prudery is explained in a fairly pat pop-psych confrontation (what Pop reveals was true, apparently, but Condon admits to taking some license by having it pass between father and son directly; Kinsey the younger actually heard it from someone else). The real hair-raising piece of work comes from character actor William Sadler, who plays an utterly earnest sexual omnivore who has kept scrupulous records of coitus with family members, minors of both sexes, and animals. In life, Sadler’s character peppered Kinsey with correspondence until the doctor agreed to meet him. Their face-to-face lasted seventeen hours, says Condon, and that single history became a flashpoint for persistent but unfounded rumors that Kinsey himself was a pedophile.

KINSEY has already been well received by the HFPA; the film plus Neeson and Linney have been nominated for Golden Globes in their respective categories. But the Globes have a rep for rewarding sexually adventurous material, and of course there are more genre divisions. The Academy will be a tougher sell. If current Oscar punditry is to be believed, Linney has the best shot at securing a nomination. She plays the type of role—Longsuffering Wife with a Twist—that the Academy loves to acknowledge, and she does it to perfection. Neeson would have to break into a Best Actor race that looks locked up (Javier Bardem, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Jamie Foxx, and Paul Giamatti, with Don Cheadle and Johnny Depp lurking). The buzz seems to be fading somewhat on Peter Sarsgaard, which disappoints me, partly because Clyde Martin is a meaty role (sorry!) but mostly because I’m still stung that the Academy passed over Sarsgaard’s turn in SHATTERED GLASS last year (no offense, Alec Baldwin, but Peter should have gotten your invite to the party). At the close of KINSEY, I remarked to Dave, “Well, Peter won’t be nominated for an Oscar because they won’t be able to isolate a clip they can actually air on network television!” Sarsgaard may yet get in this year, but I’m already wondering what his role as Troy the sniper will be in Sam Mendes’s JARHEAD and whether I can pin any hopes on it next January. Sadler and Lynn Redgrave are stunners, but it’s been twenty years or more since Oscar has looked seriously at cameos.

There are plenty of research montages—some are savvy (the best laugh comes at Pomeroy’s confusion over near-homophones in an interview), some are a shade sophomoric, but at least a couple of the bad ones are redeemed by an overlay of Carter Burwell’s memorable main theme music. If I felt jarred here and there by the direction, I appreciated not feeling manipulated—the film is not about trumpeting a “point of view” or about pushing an agenda about the protagonist. Dave said he was glad we didn’t have any blah-blah epilogue text; I felt that Redgrave’s breathtaking few minutes as a grateful Kinsey reader served in its stead as a sort of benediction on Kinsey’s career. It’s the capper on a film that may be on the outside looking in on Feb. 27 but should be on your list of things to catch before then.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10447&reviewer=395
originally posted: 01/12/05 22:39:34
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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

1/25/11 PAUL SHORTT ENGROSSING BIOPIC WITH GOOD PERFORMANCES 4 stars
11/02/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 4 stars
7/27/07 McGregger TERRIBLE. The acting, script, plot, casting. Bad from top to bottom. 1 stars
7/24/05 SL On-screen sausage due to gay director, but otherwise unecessary 3 stars
6/28/05 BoyInTheDesignerBubble Peter Sarsgaard naked. 5 stars from me! 5 stars
6/24/05 Mr Fluffy Apparently, Liam Neeson has a rather huge cock. So he tells me. 4 stars
3/30/05 DavidOz V good, suddenly knowing the context made the science live 5 stars
3/26/05 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
2/10/05 Liam Neeson? I thought that was Ralph Finnes!! Sex and the shitty. 3 stars
1/29/05 Casey Tells okay 3 stars
1/28/05 buddy garrett Neeson's performance is good but there is nothing else. 3 stars
1/13/05 Neil Pretty good 4 stars
12/30/04 Landshark Breeding for sophisticates beats sex for dummies any day 4 stars
12/11/04 EILEEN GOLDMAN EXCELLENT FILM,OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES 4 stars
12/05/04 Travis Bickle Movie was a breath of fresh air compared to most movies lately. Not masterpiece but damn... 4 stars
12/04/04 Doreen finally an intelligent movie emerges out of the Hollywood junk 5 stars
12/03/04 Titus Really quite good, but nothing really stellar. 4 stars
11/21/04 Mack Mangham An Oscar for Neeson coming this way. Great movie, great acting 5 stars
11/19/04 Desperado a pervert huh, guess you voted for Bush 5 stars
11/16/04 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
11/10/04 Kelly Glorify a PERVERT? No thanks. 1 stars
11/03/04 MMM Shouldn't opinions be based on stellar performances, rather than subject matter? 4 stars
10/30/04 Hugo Haas Smug and campy failure, second half a complete mess 1 stars
10/24/04 Sinick LIES! Kinsey was a child molester & rapist! Read about it from Dr. Reisman or Dr. Makow 1 stars
9/14/04 MM Gonna get Oscar noms for sure 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  12-Nov-2004 (R)
  DVD: 17-May-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  13-Jan-2005


Directed by
  Bill Condon

Written by
  Bill Condon

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



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