Combustible Celluloid
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With: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O'Donnell, Peter
Written by: Bill Condon
Directed by: Bill Condon
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive sexual content, including some graphic images and descriptions
Running Time: 118
Date: 09/04/2004

Kinsey (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sex as a Weapon

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Oscar-winning writer/director Bill Condon -- the man behind the superb James Whale story Gods and Monsters -- delivers this far more traditional biopic, albeit on a distinctly non-traditional subject.

The film shows Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) collecting and studying bugs before realizing that human sexuality is still a largely unknown and unexplored scientific field. Condon fits an incredible amount of wiggle room within the unyielding biopic structure; we get stiff, uptight puritans who believe that sex should remain a behind-closed-doors subject, as well as forward-thinking pagans who take sexual freedom a bit too far.

Whereas other biopics like the recent Ray have no interest in supporting characters, Condon peppers Kinsey with essential sounding boards for its main character. In a sense, Neeson's performance is not as grand as many biopics allow or require, because the actor is generous enough to share his spotlight with others.

Laura Linney is remarkable as Kinsey's wife Clara. In one scene she returns to Kinsey after having turned down another marriage proposal, not at all sure that she wants to spend her life with this mad scientist, but willing to give it a try. John Lithgow has only a few scenes as Kinsey's horrible, repressed father, and gives the character a center. As one of Kinsey's assistants, the extraordinary Peter Sarsgaard carefully hides his darting thoughts behind sleepy eyes. And Lynn Redgrave -- who turned in an Oscar nominated performance in Gods and Monsters -- appears in a small but crucial scene, vindicating all of Kinsey's work during his darkest hour.

Indeed, Kinsey gave us all permission to talk about sex for the first time, but the film also stresses how backward we still are.

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