Liam Neeson's top notch turn makes for a compelling life story.

Released in 2004, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 09 Mar 2005 by Scott Morris
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What people do in the privacy of their own homes is their own business. Still, it'd be nice to have some statistical basis to work from if we felt like guessing but when it came to sex in late 1940's America taboos were blocking that particular avenue of conversation. One man changed that with a groundbreaking study of human sexuality that dispelled myths and challenged the conventional wisdom of what was 'normal' in a relationship with cold, hard numbers. This brought Alfred Kinsey success, notoriety, villainisation and no small amount of celebrity. Kinsey charts his work to which his life in inextricably linked.

Liam Neeson plays the zoologist-cum-sociographer, although Bill Condon's script takes us all the way back to his upbringing under the wing of his awful father Alfred Senior (John Lithgow). A puritan preacher, Daddy dearest blames all of societies woes up to and including earthquakes on loose morals and loose zippers (which offer speedy access to moral oblivion). Overbearing and unbearable, Alf the Elder tries to railroad his son into a career in engineering despite his obvious affinity with nature and zoological talent until Alf the Younger rebels.

A lifetime collecting gull wasps wouldn't exactly be the stuff of legends, so it comes as something of a relief when the good Professor marries Clara (Laura Linney) piquing an interest in the old in-out, and the frightening lack of conjugal information any more recent than the Karma Sutra. Realising that of all the creatures on this planet human mating rituals are the least catalogued, Kinsey sees the opportunity for the studies that went on to make his name.

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If you want any more details of his life get thee unto Google, the task at hand here is to consider whether Kinsey - The Motion Picture is worth your cash. The short answer is, "Yes." A slightly longer answer is, "Yes, because Liam Neeson is fantastic." There's not really a lot long with Kinsey that isn't the fault of the man himself; the fact it's a biopic rules out robots from the future, internal affairs sting operations and dramatic rooftop showdowns. A statistical scientific data gathering exercise is by it's nature a rather dry affair, and the fact it's about shagging doesn't magically alter that. Condon takes a good stab at personalising the procedure by introducing us to Kinsey with him as the subject of a test data gathering session, an efficient way of setting up some basics as well as showing what the day job consisted of.

A man whose intellect was matched only by his drive, Kinsey is shown as a strong, single minded character that occasionally fails to recognise he's thundering down the wrong avenue. It doesn't seem fair to have a go at the film for not showing other characters in the same depth, after all it's not their story. In particular the lunatic fringe seem to have been upset by the portrayal of Kinsey's father, his extreme views presented as laughable. Indeed they are, but this is only an issue if you erroneously extend this to say he represents the views of every religion, allowing the PsychoCristians to call open season on this film as they did Kinsey himself.

In the case of the man himself they're wrong; Kinsey didn't create this behaviour, just documented it. In the case of the film they're also wrong, there's little moral posturing about sexuality in the film apart from the above thought caused by the earlier right wing interventions. It's ludicrous to vilify Kinsey as the cause of a moral backslide, just as it's ludicrous to vilify Kinsey as a one-sided treatise on liberal sexuality. It's the story of his work and his life, you'll have to make your own mind up on what constitutes moral sexual behaviour.

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I suppose I can see where Kinsey's detractors are coming from. It does seem to be going out of it's way to present Kinsey's opponents as laughable buffoons, although when Kinsey's father eventually tells his son what set his thinking down such a skewed path it's difficult to hold on to the contempt you may have had for him. Kinsey's academic nemesis comes in the shape of Thurman Rice (Tim Curry), although in this case it's a comic relief nemesis. Funny, and a good performance from Curry, but if you were expecting this to be more about the implications of his work on society than about the man himself you'll be disappointed by the way Kinsey skirts around the controversy his work created.

Which is a perfectly valid approach, assuming the film is correct in saying that Kinsey's motivation was purely scientific research into this under developed field of study. Can't help but feel that it might have been more interesting if it had delved a little into the furore his work created, but that was never the interest of the man. It's left to Neeson and Neeson alone to make sure the film keeps the audience engaged, and were it anyone less capable than Neeson it probably wouldn't have worked.

However it wasn't, and it does. While it makes a far less obvious scope for a biopic than, say, its day of U.K. release stablemate Hotel Rwanda, Kinsey proves that sometimes force of personality can be as compelling as turn of events.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Bill Condon
Cast list:
Liam Neeson (Alfred Kinsey)
Laura Linney (Clara McMillen)
Chris O'Donnell (Wardell Pomeroy)
Peter Sarsgaard (Clyde Martin)
Timothy Hutton (Paul Gebhard)
John Lithgow (Alfred Seguine Kinsey)
Tim Curry (Thurman Rice)