We may have a winner.
Last night I saw Kinsey and it was very good. The writing and acting were both top notch. Again and again I was blown away by the vivid cinematography (credited on imdb to Frederick Elmes) and the flawless aging makeup (not certain who gets credit on this one). Credits aside, voting for this movie, with its message pro tolerance and anti priggish morality, will be the perfect and more subtle way for Academy voters still steamed about the election to stick it to the red states.
Bill Condon (the writer/director) already won a screenplay Oscar for his James Whale biopic, Gods & Monsters. Here he’s topped himself in writing and also directing. Structured as a sexual history interview Kinsey might perform on one of his subjects, flashbacks flow naturally and powerfully out of the forward motion of the story, something Ray never achieved. Not only does Kinsey test the limits of an R rating (in ways entirely integral to the story), it also tests the conventional narrative devices of biopics. Never are we treated to time-passes montages or gently placed temporally within a scene. Instead Condon relies entirely on aging makeup and art direction to tell us when and where we are in these characters’ lives. This should be jarring, but is done with such forethought that we are never confused. Condon coaches excellent performances out of even small roles (some of the interview subjects are unforgettable) and Linney and Neeson are a hundred percent convincing all through their unconventional love story. Plus, as I mentioned before, the lensing is exquisite — something not really a given in biopics.
The flaws: the biggest one is that Kinsey suffers less than he could in the final act — such that his redemption is not as powerful as we have come to expect from Hollywood movies. I think this will be overlooked because of the scene where he takes down the sexual history the character played by Lynn Redgrave. A devastating, powerful scene with a truly homerun cameo performance by Redgrave. Smaller flaws: annoying nature stock footage clashes with Elmes’ cinematography, comic actors cast in serious roles (Tim Curry, Oliver Platt and John Lithgow reprising the minister from Footloose) raise the wrong expectations and weaken the ‘moral’ side that opposes Kinsey. One reason this movie might not win best picture is simply that Neeson’s awkward scientist is a bit too reminiscent of Russell Crowe’s in A Beautiful Mind.
I really loved this movie, although of all the movies I’ve seen this year it probably isn’t my favorite. But, given its (many and particular) strengths, I feel this one is the front-runner for Best Picture. Right now, at least…