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USA 2004
Directed by
Bill Condon
118 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars


Synopsis: In the late 1940s, American biologist Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) began a monumental study of the sexual habits and attitudes of American men, which resulted in the publication of Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male in 1948. As Kinsey's research delved further into all aspects of human sexuality, the man and his methods became a focus for controversy. The sexual revolution had begun and attitudes to sex would never be the same again.

Kinsey is a fine film in every regard, with more creativity and depth than your average biopic. Its opening black and white interview sequence grabs our interest, Kinsey's subjects' answering his questions, and Kinsey himself answering questions about his life. We are launched straight into the feeling of how exciting and controversial his research must have been in its day.

The film is a marvellous recreation of an era, in fact several eras, as it spans from Kinsey's childhood up to his death in 1956. It is also a multi-faceted depiction of a man who was obviously far more complex tham history would have us believe. We are gradually introduced to Kinsey: his background and problems with a morally repressive father; his near-obsessive nature in his scientific studies of the gall wasp; his down-to-earth way of dealing with students in his "hygiene" classes, and his openness and aspiration to objectivity in dealing with what was mostly a taboo subject back then.

Liam Neeson gives a beautifully layered performance as Kinsey, keeping an edge of humour and light-heartedness, despite his character's passionate devotion to his subject matter. The real Kinsey was much maligned and even accused of being a pervert, yet Neeson's characterisation allows us to make our own assessments. The film is not without its moving moments too, especially in the strong relationship between Prok (as Kinsey is nicknamed) and Clara, his wife, as well as some of the discoveries Kinsey makes about his father.

Director Condon put in months of research for his film and it pays off: the feeling of authenticity and immediacy is strong, as is the sense of outrage, puritanism, and excitement that coalesced when the first Kinsey book was released. Supporting Neeson is a strong cast including Laura Linney as Clara, Kinsey's wife, and Peter Sarsgaard as one of Kinsey's trusted research team (and occasional homosexual partner). Other smaller roles are well served by Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Oliver Platt and Chris O'Donnell.

Kinsey is especially relevant today, in a time when a puritanical backlash seems to be emerging, and we are reminded of the need for such dedicated people whose research demonstrates to us that despite our civilized gloss we are only human.




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