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'Kinds of Kindness' Review

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May 31, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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Kinds of Kindness premiered at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival. Searchlight Pictures will release it in theaters on June 21.

If The Favourite and Poor Things were one for them, then Kinds of Kindness is one for me. It’s a film that Greek Weird Wave writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has been working on for a few years now with his usual partner Efthimis Filippou, almost as if he knew he wouldn’t be allowed to unleash it unless he built up enough street cred through those two Oscar-winning period pieces. Searchlight Pictures must have known they had a hit on their hands when they gave him $15 million and a ticket to New Orleans to indulge in his fantasies during the lengthy post-production work for Poor Things. The result is another work of the macabre, a blending of his nastier Greek projects with the prestige of his star-studded English-language cohorts.

Self-described as a triptych fable, Kinds of Kindness finds its troupe of actors (Jesse Plemons, Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, Mamoudou Athie, Hunter Schafer) rotating around sets of characters in each of the three stories. “The Death of R.M.F.” is the first story and is about a submissive office worker who revolts against his dominative boss who controls every aspect of his life, including what he wears, when he eats, and how many times a week he gets to have sex with his wife. The second, titled “R.M.F. is Flying,” finds a police officer teetering on the edge of insanity as his marine biologist wife remains lost at sea, only for her to return with a completely different personality. And the third, “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich,”  has two cult members searching high and low for the messianic figure they believe will bring them salvation.

These three stories share no literal connections, with Lanthimos closing each off with an amusing credits sequence. But they each share quite a few thematic ideas, such as our willingness to endure and inflict pain on each other. It’s not exactly a fresh idea for Lanthimos, with both of his previous Cannes titles in The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer telling stories of twisted compassion and control, but the result is still delightfully off-kilter. The world these characters inhabit may look and feel like ours, but their behavior leads us to believe this takes place in some multiverse dimension. You can’t always put your finger on what it is, and it’s still a close enough copy that you can’t fully dismiss it as pure fantasy.

But things aren’t as clouded in darkness as they were previously for Lanthimos, with “Sweet Dreams” providing an upbeat mantra during the opening studio logos. The words of the lyrics “Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them want to be abused,” certainly ring true during the first story, with Plemons and Dafoe being wonderfully comedic during their game of chicken. Plemons is the biggest presence throughout all the stories, playing the lead cop in the middle chapter and one-half of the cult pair in the final one. His spine progressively stiffens with each new character, but his chameleonic sensibilities always remain consistent. The recent news that he’ll be one of the leads in Lanthimos’ next film Bugonia (also starring Stone) is very welcoming.

There’s also much warmth in the cinematography by Robbie Ryan, who opts away from the fish eye lenses of The Favourite and Poor Things but keeps the flourishes of occasional black-and-white sequences. The sweltering heat and popping colors add to the heightened sense of absurdity of everything. Breaking those small semblances of lushness is Jerskin Fendrix’s stilted score, the piano keys clanging together eerily similarly to that of the sequence in Eyes Wide Shut when Tom Cruise’s character is discovered at the orgy.

The restrained stylishness of the production isn’t always matched by the material, with the 164-minute runtime periodically being stretched near the end of each story. The actors are always on their A-game, it’s mostly that you can’t be fully shocked by something after multiple go-arounds, especially from a filmmaker who’s made it his signature. But, most importantly, the Lanthimos’ callousness never flirts with being uninteresting or too misanthropic for its own good.

More so than any of his previous features, a second go around with Kinds of Kindness will be in order for most cinephiles. The willingness to get back on this horse for another ride will be a formidable question, but at least Lanthimos has made it easy to return in bite-sized chunks. However, I wouldn’t recommend sitting down for this on a full stomach.

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