Kinds of Kindness (2024)

a new film by Yorgos Lanthimos

Written by:
Paula Farmer
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“Poor Things” and “The Favourite” director Yorgos Lanthimos is known for being one of the most unique and creative filmmakers in Hollywood. His directing career, which began in his home country of Greece in 2001, has garnered attention as well as criticism and praise… but mostly praise. Over the years, his reputation of cleverly combining a quirky sensibility with equally strong themes and unusual content and characters has endeared him some of the best acting talent in Europe and America. And since 2018 between the release of “The Favourite” and “Poor Things,” Lanthimos’ films have racked up quite a few Oscar nominations and awards, confirming his unique talent and appeal.

Given that “Poor Things” was the darling of this latest award season (2024), including star Emma Stone winning for Best Actress in a Leading Role, one might expect Lanthimos to rest on his laurels… or at least rest. Instead he is riding on the heels of the acclaim and awards and has released “Kinds of Kindness.” The single movie is made up of a collection of three short-ish films (about an hour each) and done in the tone of fables and using the same ensemble of actors, headed up by the seamlessly talented Jesse Plemons and Emma Stone who also is the film’s producer. Initially the three stories seem disparate, but the more you get immersed in each one, the more themes and commonalities merge.

The first follows Robert who tries to take back control of his own life after his boss and sometimes lover dictated every aspect of it. As such, the boss, played by Willem Dafoe, has gone as far as selecting Robert’s wife, house and determined that he should not have children. After ten years of such control, the boss insists on an especially odd and dangerous task of Robert. When he declines, the boss rejects Robert, leaving him to second guess himself and spiral. In the next story, Robert is a policeman who is devastated by the loss of his wife who is missing at sea while on a work excursion. When she returns, Robert is convinced it is actually not his wife. Soon the accusations and paranoia ensue. For the last installment, a couple/colleagues (Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons) are on a mission to find a specific candidate with special abilities to raise the dead and destined to become a spiritual leader for a cult-like following.

While “Kinds of Kindness” is in keeping with Lanthimos’ quirky characters and creativity, it is not, however, in the same ilk has his latter works. “Kindness” is more so harkening to the filmmakers earlier projects, like “Dogtooth” or “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” where sophistication in style and presentation takes a backseat to darker sensibilities, and downright weird story lines and themes. This is not necessarily a bad thing, more of a warning to viewers more accustomed to and inclined towards the Lanthimos films of recent years. For some, it may be less delightful and more daunting, but conversely, “Kindness” might serve well to entreat fans who are unfamiliar with the first half of is repertoire to go back and experience the director’s entire cannon. I’m sure that is the hope, but the reality is that the majority of latter film fans probably will not crossover to his very dark comedy form.

“Kindness” is definitely an acquired taste, with it more likely that many will find it outright weird and maybe even offensive or problematic regarding the portrayal of abuse and kink. What could have made it more palatable and engaging would have been if the characters spoke in normal patterns. Instead, the dialogue is delivered in stilted affectations throughout. What is the standout for the triptych is the talent, especially Plemons. True to form as a chameleon, he is a consummate character actor and “Kindness” solidifies him as the Phillip Seymour Hoffman of his time and one of the best around (I sense early Oscar buzz). Likewise, Dafoe and Stone are strong second leads to Plemons’ as the principal actor throughout. Other supporting actors and welcome new additions to the Lanthimos lineup are Hong Chau, Mamoudou Athie and Margaret Qualley.

Love it or hate it; engaged or disdained, there are plenty aspects to appreciate about “Kinds of Kindness”- the mysterious elements of how the stories are conjoined, and the use of the same actors for varying roles, and each performances. “Kinds of Kindness” is the messy, but not necessarily tragic accident on the highway. You are the passenger-turned-gawker who can’t not look away.

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