Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
"Kinsey" instantly brought to mind "A Beautiful Mind" along with writer/director Bill Condon's last film, "Gods & Monsters," due to its unbiased and revealing look at the full spectrum of its subject's psyche. In this case, "Kinsey" is, of course, about Alfred Kinsey. Kinsey's 1948 publication of "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" was a groundbreaking and society changing look at human sexuality.
Being from conservative Indiana, I've always had an interest in the life and work of Kinsey along with the still present Kinsey Institute. While they certainly no longer qualify as "cutting edge" as they were in the old days, their research remains progressive and relevant nearly 60 years after the work of Kinsey began.
This film doesn't hold back in exploring the brilliance of Kinsey while looking at his own inner demons (as society would call them). Liam Neeson is wondrous as Kinsey in that he balances an essential naivete with downright manipulation of the subject, the institution and even his assistants. Kinsey, in the midst of all his brilliance could be, for lack of a better term, quite the prick. What makes this film so wondrous is that it chooses not to hide from this fact with the glossing over, for the second autobiographical film this year (after "Finding Neverland") the strongly suggested rumors of pedophilia that plagued Kinsey. Neeson naturally physically resembles Kinsey, but adds so much depth to the character that one can't help but feel like Neeson is not only "playing" Kinsey he has literally become Kinsey. An Oscar nomination is almost assured for Neeson and a win is not out of the question.
As his faithful, yet often mistreated wife, Laura Linney turns in her finest performance to date (and that's saying a LOT). Linney nearly steals every scene she is in, and is quite literally hypnotic in her scenes with Neeson. Linney's segue from free-spirited student to young wife to respected advisor is a natural, incredibly effective transition that would have been a lost performance by many actresses. Kudos also to the make-up team. Make-up is hardly an area I usually notice, however, Linney's transition is done with a soft touch that adds significantly to her characterization. It's masterful. Linney's performance is also about as close to a guaranteed Oscar nomination as one should get, and I'd be hard-pressed to name a better performance by a female this year.
In supporting roles, kudos abound across the border. Of course, much is being made of Peter Sarsgaard's turn as one of Kinsey's assistant and eventual lover. Saarsgard gives the film a scene of full-frontal nudity, which seems to still be shocking by even today's cinematic standards. It is done quite naturally, and is practically a necessity in a film about Kinsey. It should be noted that Neeson himself had a full-frontal nude scene in the film, however, it was cut from the final version. Controversy over nudity aside, Sarsgaard offers yet another brilliant performance in his film repertoire with a brash, confident and completely authentic character. An Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor is not out of the question here.
Not to be outdone, John Lithgow reminds us what a brilliant actor he can be when given the right role. As Kinsey's minister father, Lithgow is powerful in an under-developed role. An Oscar nomination here would be appropriate were it not for the brevity of this performance.
Other supporting performances of fine note include Timothy Hutton (welcome back!), Chris O'Donnell (Finally, another great performance!), Tim Curry (Hmmm...his most famous role is as a sweet transvestite and here he's brilliant again in a film about Kinsey), Veronica Cartwright (perfect touches) and also Oliver Platt, Julianne Nicholson and Dylan Baker.
The film is blessed with exemplary production design, an outstanding score from Carter Burwell and exquisite art design/costuming. Multiple Oscar nominations in acting, writing and production areas are certainly warranted.
"Kinsey" comes in at just under 2 hours, however, it is a well-paced and entertaining two hours. An additional 15-20 minutes of character development may have been warranted, and would have added significantly to some of the supporting characters in the film.
"Kinsey" is a definite "R" rated film as Condon wisely chose to honor the nature of Kinsey's work by offering a film of graphic discussion, intellect, sexuality and intimacy. While far from obscene, one can't deny that this film will not be discussed quite so openly in the workplace due to fears of sexual harassment charges. Yes, it is THAT honest.
With honesty, frankness and explicit authenticity "Kinsey" becomes one of 2004's best pictures and a favorite to receive an Oscar nomination for "Best Picture."
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic