Kinsey is a film about sex and it's very serious indeed. It's not dirty or crude - that might make it enjoyable trash. Instead, it's achingly tactful, tasteful and careful not to offend anyone beyond the primmest of maiden aunts. Bill Condon, the man whose insight into James Whale in Gods And Monsters was so acute and sympathetic, somehow manages to make the whole subject of Kinsey and his infamous reports into male and female sexuality seem, well, a bit dull. The performances are good enough to make it worth seeing anyway but it's hard not to feel that inside this bland concoction, there's a better, more intriguing film desperate to escape.
Professor Alfred Kinsey published his groundbreaking study "Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male" in 1948 to overwhelming acclaim but his subsequent volume on female sexual behaviour was condemned as 'Anti-American' by Red-baiters who were eager to find new scapegoats for their theories about Communist infiltration. Kinsey's importance in American society cannot be overstated; his beliefs that enforced abstinence was unnatural and that homosexuality was simply a matter of natural sexual orientation were particularly significant. He still arouses strong feelings amongst some organisations, particularly those on the Christian Right. There are certainly reasonable questions to be raised about Kinsey's methods of collecting data. But the criticism that he was deliberately engaged in subverting American morality is surely one which deserves to be treated with derision, especially at a time when America - as the director observes in his commentary track - is diving back into a head-in-the-sand attitude towards sexual behaviour.
Bill Condon's film faithfully trudges through the known facts of Kinsey's life, occasionally indulging in some effective stylisation. The opening, in which Kinsey's past is explored through some of the questions used in his survey, is particularly effective in its mixture of colour and monochrome. But the film frequently grinds to a halt while we listen to historically accurate lectures and endless discussions between Kinsey and his wife. It's almost as though Condon feels he has to cover himself with verifiable fact as a defence against critics and the result is a film which stubbornly refuses to leave the ground. What makes this more frustrating is that there are moments here and there which are genuinely compelling - the testimony of a young gay man, the scene in which 'Reg King', brilliantly played by William Sadler, reveals a jaw-dropping string of perversions. Unfortunately, other scenes which should be great simply fall flat, particularly Kinsey's exploration of his own bisexuality. Condon's camera seems to stop dead and there are artful pauses which are meant to be powerful but make the viewer start looking at their watch. Important aspects of the history, such as the battle to get pieces of historically significant pornography past Customs, are present but presented without any obvious tension and there seems to be nothing much at stake. Most significantly, Kinsey himself remains a somewhat elusive figure and he clearly has a dark side which the film shies away from exploring in any depth.
What saves the film, enough to make it considerably more worthwhile than it deserves, is the quality of the acting. Liam Neeson has been a fine actor for many years now but this is the best work he's ever done on screen. He's every inch the star here and he dominates the film with enough presence to add a dramatic impetus which is absent elsewhere. Laura Linney is just as good as his wife, providing a moving and acute portrayal of how an intellectual can come close to despair while playing the role of the supportive wife. There is also plenty of good supporting work from a host of familiar players - Peter Sarsgaard is typically good as Kinsey's bisexual research student and it's good to see Timothy Hutton, Dylan Baker, Oliver Platt and John Lithgow. The latter overplays his early scenes as Kinsey's father but comes through with surprising subtlety later on when he is convinced to take the Kinsey test himself. Regrettably, the role of Kinsey's arch-enemy in the university is played by Tim Curry as some kind of pantomime villain and this makes the academic angle of the film less interesting than it should be.
I also have to concede that the film is beautifully put together. Frederick Elmes, the cameraman of choice for David Lynch, makes it look like a million dollars and there's some very incisive editing choices by Virginia Katz. Carter Burwell's music score is a little too self-consciously 'serious' in the irksome manner of Thomas Newman but it's certainly very easy on the ears. Yet somehow, Kinsey seems fundamentally safe and unexciting, taking care to include all the facts without realising that it's often the gaps between the myth and the truth that makes a historical subject exciting to watch. What's missing is the kind of consistent dramatic power that you find in spades in a film such as Oliver Stone's Nixon or that George C. Scott brought to the equally confused Patton. Ironically, the final scene of Kinsey is so good that it shows what's missing elsewhere. Lynne Redgrave, playing one of Kinsey's lesbian subjects, has a monologue in which she talks about how the opening up of sexuality made possible by the Report has changed her life for the better. It's perhaps partly because of our feelings about seeing this wonderful actress again after her fight against cancer, but this scene is almost impossibly moving to watch, supplying an emotional fulfillment which the rest of the movie somehow fails to provide.
Fox's presentation of Kinsey is generally impeccable. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced. It's a good transfer. Plenty of detail is present and the image is suitably sharp without over-enhancement. The colours are frequently outstanding. There is a small amount of artifacting here and there but nothing too serious. The level of grain is appropriately filmlike but not excessive.
A number of soundtracks are offered on the disc. The 5.1 DTS Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are both excellent. There is plenty of work for the surround channels with some particularly impressive ambient effects which immerse the viewer in the film. Dialogue is usually directional and always clear. The score comes across very nicely as well.
Also included are French and Spanish Dolby Surround mixes.
The film is available in both a single disc edition, containing a commentary from Condon, and a double-disc special edition. The commentary track is lucid, fascinating and honest with Condon willing to admit his weaknesses while admiring the overall effect of the film. The second disc of the special edition contains a number of useful bonus features. "The Kinsey Report: Sex On Film" is a 90 minute documentary that covers the film and the real man in riveting detail. Personally, I found it more consistently compelling than the main feature. It's also got some very entertaining scenes in which members of the cast and crew reveal their own sexual experiences. Perhaps it's a little po-faced and serious but it's far more substantial and intelligent than you expect from this kind of thing. The documentary is presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with film clips included in their original Scope ratio.
Two trailers for Kinsey are included along with a trailer for the intriguing What The Bleep Do We Know. There are also 21 deleted scenes, each presented in anamorphic 2.35:1. Several of these deal with the sexual history of the Kinseys and are very valuable for rounding out the characters presented in the film. There's also the original ending which isn't nearly as satisfying as the one with Lynne Redgrave.
A 'Gag Reel' runs two minutes and is mildly amusing at best. "Sex Ed at the Kinsey Institute" is a fascinating, if brief, tour of the Kinsey institute. Finally, there's an interactive sex questionnaire which is absolutely riveting once you get into it.
The film contains optional subtitles but regrettably none of the extra features are subtitled.
Kinsey is a sober and sincere film but it's also a little too bland for its own good. The performances, however, are generally impeccable and there are enough good moments to make it a film which deserves your attention. This 2 disc release from Fox is a model of its kind and if you're interested in the film then it's well worth buying.