Liam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey
Laura Linney as Clara McMillen
Chris O’Donnell as Wardell Pomeroy
Peter Sarsgaard as Clyde Martin
Timothy Hutton as Paul Gebhard
John Lithgow as Alfred Seguine Kinsey
Tim Curry as Thurman Rice
Oliver Platt as Herman Wells
Dylan Baker as Alan Gregg
Julianne Nicholson as Alice Martin
William Sadler as Kenneth Braun
John McMartin as Huntington Hartford
Veronica Cartwright as Sara Kinsey
Kathleen Chalfant as Barbara Merkle
Heather Goldenhersh as Martha Pomeroy
The fascinating life and work of sex expert Alfred Kinsey is brought to the big screen with reverence by a talented director and cast. Forget Ray; Kinsey is the year’s best biodrama!
In the late 30’s, Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson), a professor of zoology at Indiana University, was studying gall wasps. Sexual problems with his new wife Clara (Laura Linney) on their wedding night inspires him to teach a course on sex to married couples, which in turn, leads to a comprehensive study on human sexuality. At the time, sex was something that few spoke about, but with a team of trained researchers, Kinsey interviewed thousands of men and women about their private sex lives, assembling the information into reports which ultimately led to the institution of sex education in schools.
Whenever Oscar season rolls around, there are always two or three movies about real people at the forefront of the nominations. Movies about larger-than-life figures like Ray (Charles) and Howard Hughes, the subject of Martin Scorsese’s upcoming The Aviator, may seem like obvious draws, but what is so interesting about a quiet professor like Alfred Kinsey besides the fact that he studied sex? Expectations of a dull scientific film should be dispelled immediately as Bill (Gods and Monsters) Condon’s biopic shows that the man’s life was just as interesting as his work, without feeling nearly as contrived or over-dramatized as something like A Beautiful Mind.
The film works mainly because Condon finds the perfect storytelling device to capture the tone and feel of Kinsey’s research, using interviews with Kinsey and his subjects to drive the film, much like they did his work. It opens with Kinsey being interviewed by his assistants about his sexual history, something used regularly in the film to segue into flashbacks of Kinsey’s strict upbringing by a judgmental minister father, played admirably by John Lithgow. This prurient childhood leads to many of his later decisions in life, including the study of human sexual behavior.
Complete with Kinsey’s trademark gravity-defying haircut, Liam Neeson gives his best performance since Schindler’s List, keeping his emotions as subdued as one might expect from such a clinical man, but still displaying pain and hurt just by using his expressive face. Laura Linney brings a lot to the table, as she plays opposite Neeson for the third time. The two of them have built such an unmatchable onscreen chemistry where they bring the best out of each other in every scene. The Kinseys’ sex life plays a large part in the movie, to the point where sex talk becomes commonplace at the dinner table. Kinsey’s own sexual confusion leads to an affair with his sexually ambiguous assistant Clyde Martin, another role where Peter Sarsgaard bats one out of the park. The three actors turn the dysfunctional love triangle between the Kinseys and Martin into the film’s most enticing subplot, but Sarsgaard’s ability to handle racier scenes makes Martin a pivotal character to some of the film’s best moments.
The extracurricular sexual activity of the Kinsey group is also explored, as they turn promiscuity in the name of science into a precursor for Plato’s Retreat as infidelities within the tightly knit group threatens to destroy Kinsey’s studies. Considering the times and how society frowned on sex at that time, their behavior is shocking. The film doesn’t get too far into the controversy surrounding Kinsey’s interviews with children, which led to even more flack from conservative groups, but the outrage over Kinsey’s book on female sexual behavior is rather telling of the times. The ability for Kinsey’s assistants to not pass judgment on their interview subjects is put to a test when they meet Kenneth Braun, a man who has had thousands of sexual experiences, even with animals and young children. Whether or not the frank discussion and depiction of sex in Kinsey makes it the best date movie or the worst may vary.
More importantly, the film is a testament to the man and why his research was so important. The final interview of the movie takes place after the public backlash to Kinsey and his loss of funding, when a woman, played by Lynn Redgrave in a welcome cameo, explains why his books were so important in changing people’s lives and opinions on sex and sexuality.
With so many biopics being made solely to try to get awards, it’s refreshing to see one where the director and actors are all working on the same page to tell a good story that does justice to the work of a relatively little known individual whose work had such a substantial impact on the country and its views on sex. Condon has clearly set a new standard on how a quality biopic can be kept interesting, by presenting the most interesting aspects of a man’s life and work without going overboard with artistic license.
Kinsey opens in select cities on November 12 and expands elsewhere before Thanksgiving.