When zoologist Dr. Alfred Kinsey published his landmark report on "Sexual Behaviour In The Human Male" in 1948, he expected to sell a few thousand copies, and perhaps pique the interest of a few other American academics. Instead the work sparked a media sensation, shot to the top of the bestsellers lists and - many argue - sparked the sexual revolution. Director Bill Condon explores the life of this controversial figure, from his earliest childhood in rural New Jersey to his death in 1956. Unsurprisingly the bulk of the film concerns Kinsey's groundbreaking studies, and the brilliant but unorthodox team of researchers who helped him to found an entirely new scientific field - sexology.
"Kinsey" is the most engaging biography to come out of Hollywood in a very long while. It paints a vivid, three dimensional picture of one of history's most controversial scientists, complete with both his triumphs and his flaws. Like any good biography the film encompasses both the personal and the public figure without ever allowing the one to dominate the other and without resorting to oversimplification. But above all the film remains a beautifully presented piece of entertainment - a fascinating life story distilled into a taut and polished screenplay and brought to life by a world class cast and crew.
Director Bill Condon has already showed his talent for biography with the superb "Gods and Monsters" in 1998, and he cements that reputation with 'Kinsey" for which he also penned the screenplay. The deep level of understanding that Condon brings to the film gives it the unmistakable air of authenticity, while his talents as a writer have allowed him to explore the subtle complexities of his subject without ever losing sight of the bigger picture (or his audience's patience).
Thankfully Condon is also gifted with a crew of seasoned professionals that tend to magnify the power of the story instead of detracting from it. Of particular note is cinematographer Frederick Elmes who dresses the film in a crisp, '50s style Technicolor that is gorgeous to look at, but also unobtrusive to the point of transparency. A veteran of the business, Elmes never allows ostentatious visual trickery to interfere with the story being told, but conjures up sharp visual emphasis wherever it is needed.
Another highlight is the consistently excellent performances by the cast. Liam Neeson throws himself into the character of Kinsey, bringing intensity and verve to the challenging role. With a small role as Kinsey's puritanical father, John Lithgow proves yet again that he is one of Hollywood's most underappreciated talents. Fans of "Third Rock from the Sun" will be hard pressed not to shudder at the monster Lithgow can become when he so chooses. But it is Laura Linney who stands out in her performance as Kinsey's wife Clara. Linney infuses her character with all the nuances of a real human being, and this gives her performance a quiet power that, at times, makes even Neeson look clumsy by comparison.
Viewers should be warned though, that the film is not for the squeamish. Condon has not pulled any punches and many of the scenes and events explored may horrify sensitive viewers. Kinsey's bisexuality is openly portrayed, as are the unorthodox sexual practices he encouraged in his research team. But thankfully the film never ventures into the realms of the salacious or the gratuitous. It remains at all times a sober and intelligent portrait of a scientist. Those hoping for a high-class porno will be sorely disappointed.
Condon has said that he believes he has painted a totally unbiased picture of his subject, but this is not entirely the case. While he doesn't baulk at showing Kinsey's faults, one cannot help feel charmed or at the very least intrigued by his charismatic subject. But, whatever his political bent might be, you cannot give Condon anything but praise for his efforts. He has drawn what will be the definitive picture of this enigmatic and brilliant man for many generations to come.- By Alistair Fairweather
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