2004, Movie, R, 118 mins


Why does Bill Condon's biographical drama about controversial sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, intelligently written, well directed and filled with excellent performances, ultimately feel so pedestrian? While Condon's excellent GODS AND MONSTERS (1998) vividly captured the essence of acclaimed horror director James Whale by focusing on one period in his life, this film chronicles the bulk of Kinsey's experiences while barely scratching the surface of his personality. That said, Condon deserves credit for shaking up the usual biopic formula, modeling his narrative structure after Kinsey's famous sex interviews with the scientist himself (Liam Neeson) answering questions about his own sexual history. He begins with his childhood and strained relationship with his religious father (John Lithgow). Rebelling against his family's pious ways, Alfred embraces the secular world of science in college, assumes a professorship at Indiana University and marries pretty student Clara (Laura Linney). Problems in the bedroom force them to consult a doctor, and Kinsey realizes that many young couples know little about sex and have nowhere to turn for advice. He proposes a course in basic sex education to the university's new president (Oliver Platt), who surprises everyone by agreeing. Positive response to the class spurs Kinsey to explore the subject in greater depth. His goal: to present the world with the first comprehensive study of human sexuality. He and his research team, including his lover, Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard), interview thousands of people across the country about their sexual experiences, and the initial results are published in 1948 to great acclaim and greater controversy. As Kinsey enters the public eye, the atmosphere of sexual exploration he encourages among his family and friends threatens to break down amidst internal jealousies and outside scrutiny. Like Taylor Hackford's RAY (2004), this film is driven by a powerful central performance — Neeson disappears into his role, appearing meeker and more vulnerable than ever before. Linney and Sarsgaard also contribute strong work and Condon gives each the opportunity to shine. But it's a shame that the script doesn't push the actors further; while touching upon Kinsey's unorthodox methods, Condon omits some of the more distasteful details about his methods and subjects that came to light in the years since Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was first published. Kinsey's profound impact on American culture seems oddly muted here as well, though an 11th-hour cameo by Vanessa Redgrave as one of Kinsey's last research subjects drives home how profoundly he changed the way the Americans talked about sex. leave a comment --Ethan Alter

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