Liam Neeson stars as Alfred Kinsey, a man driven by scientific passion and personal demons to investigate the elusive mystery of human sexuality. Laura Linney garnered a Best Actress Oscar® nomination for her compelling performance as Kinsey’s free-thinking wife. This provocative drama dares to lift the veil of shame from a society in which sex was hidden, knowledge was dangerous and talking about it was the ultimate taboo.
eyelights: Liam Neeson. John Lithgow. the subject matter.
eyesores: Liam Neeson. the nebulous passage of time.
As someone who once considered studying human sexuality in the pursuit of a degree as a sex therapist, I was immediately intrigued by ‘Kinsey’ when it came out. I was so surprised to know that someone had made a film of the man’s life and work, but I was even more taken aback by the fact that it had landed a star of Liam Neeson’s stature.
The film covers Kinsey’s early family life, in particular his relationship with his father, all the way to his later years, after his greatest research had been published and was facing obscurity after being ostracized by even his closest allies. It mostly focuses on his ground-breaking research in human sexuality, works that opened up the door’s of America’s bedrooms for the first time, as well as his personal life.
This is my second time seeing the picture. I remembered enjoying it, but had forgotten just how much. The subject matter wasn’t especially surprising, of course, but the performance were absolutely terrific, and even actors that I usually find irritating or substandard somehow pulled through marvellously for this film.
Liam Neeson is fantastic, as per usual, but there are moments when I found his performance in the titular role reminiscent of the mentally-deranged scientist Peyton Westlake in ‘Darkman’ – especially when he got upset or cried. The rest of the time, however, he was a powerhouse: forceful, intense and entirely credible.
John Lithgow gave the strongest performance of the lot, portraying Kinsey’s father, a puritan who preached morality and who believed that “sin” was the cause of many of the world’s problems, including earthquakes. A total quack by today’s standards, he had an impact on Kinsey by inadvertently instilling in him a desire to prove everything scientifically. Lithgow gives the man a ferocity and self-righteousness that is inimitable, also giving the man a softness and vulnerability when needed. Terrific.
Laura Linney plays Kinsey’s spouse, Clara McMillen, subtly, displaying her range as an actress quite ably. Even when Clara was upset, Linney gave her a quiet dignity; she played her intelligent, direct and unassailable. I loved how Clara wooed Kinsey, how clinical she was. It was amusing, but understandable, given the man that she fancied.
Peter Sarsgaard has been a favourite of mine ever since ‘The Center of the World’ and he is quite excellent in ‘Kinsey’, as the primary assistant and part-time lover – of both Kinseys. He’s an integral part of the clan and the picture, so his strong supporting turn was essential. It’s just too bad that his part got watered down a little by the end.
Timothy Hutton has never been a favourite of mine, but I really liked him in here. He made me think of a mellow Kevin Kline, stripped of his usual arrogance. Hutton plays a self-assured, but humble, assistant of Kinsey’s and, although it’s more of a secondary part, Hutton made him feel important every single moment he was on screen. Nice.
Chris O’Donnell is one of those actors I learned to loathe very early on. I hated his pretty boy looks combined with his lack of chops. To me, he destroyed D’Artagnan and Robin; I couldn’t wait for him to disappear. But, in ‘Kinsey’, I must admit that he rather enjoyable. It’s funny, because I didn’t recognize him one bit and could barely distinguish him from Sarsgaard. Perhaps this allowed me to see his performance without bias.
Tim Curry is an hit-and-miss actor for me. Just like Brad Dourif, he’s extremely skilled, but he tends to ham it up and/or play in low-grade b-movies – something that, in my estimation, totally ruins his credibility and lowers his standing. Curry was decent here, playing it straight, if not entirely convincingly. I would have wanted a little more gravitas, because it felt as though the camp was just beneath the surface.
William Sadler always gives me mixed feelings. He can be exquisitely creepy, playing a heavy one has a difficulty forgetting, but it doesn’t always appear realistic. This time, he plays a man whom Kinsey interviews during his research, a man as detail-oriented, as interested in all manners of sexual experience, as Kinsey. For that short period, Sadler displays the character’s eagerness and disappointment perfectly well.
This all amounted to a perfectly-executed film, directed quite nicely by Bill Condon (of ‘Gods and Monsters’ and ‘Dreamgirls’ fame). My only beefs with the film are the way that the passage of time was established, which is merely by a minor change in hair colour for Neeson and Linney, and the way that the ending seemed a bit rushed.
On the one hand, we had no sense of what era we were in and where we were next, which was maddening to me. Were we in the ’30s, ’40s or ’50s? I don’t know the eras well enough to distinguish them unless there’s technology being used or if a noteworthy political and/or cultural element being referenced, so that was bothersome.
As for the ending, I disliked that the first part of ‘Kinsey’ takes its sweet time building the character up, and rightly so as he’s a complex person with complex relationships, but then it savagely tore him down in a manner of minutes. I would have liked to see a more gradual and thorough understanding of what took place.
But, all in all, ‘Kinsey’ is an excellent motion picture. I may not know if the events are accurately represented here, but it’s kind of nice that it’s a film about sex that is perfectly respectable and legitimate. It’s a straight-talking film about a subject that even today not everyone is comfortable with, but which couldn’t have been possible if not for Alfred Kinsey. His works are essential reading, and his life is worth seeing.
‘Kinsey’ should appeal not just to “perverts” such as myself, but also to anyone who is interested in culture, sociology and/or science: Kinsey’s research is a significant landmark not just in North America, but around the world. It’s worth knowing and exploring.
Date of viewing: May 13, 2013