Movies

Kinds Of Kindness Review: Yorgos Lanthimos’ Anthology Is Shocking, Hilarious, Upsetting, And Great

When I first had the opportunity to watch Dogtooth in 2010, I instantly recognized writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos as a filmmaker with fascinating sensibilities and style, and I committed to keeping an eye on his work in the years ahead… but I never had even the slightest inkling that he would find what can be called “mainstream” success. And yet, that’s exactly what has happened in the last 14 years. His 2015 movie The Lobster and 2017’s The Killing Of A Sacred Deer saw him start collaborating with notable Hollywood stars like Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and Nicole Kidman, and he is now widely recognized as the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind 2018’s The Favourite and 2023’s Poor Things.

Kinds Of Kindness

Emma Stone dancing in Kinds of Kindness.

(Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

Release Date: June 21, 2024
Directed By: Yorgos Lanthimos
Written By: Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthimis Filippou
Starring: Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Hong Chau, Margaret Qualley, Mamoudou Athie, and Joe Alwyn
Rating: R for strong/disturbing violent content, strong sexual content, full nudity and language
Runtime: 164 minutes

Part of what makes The Favourite and Poor Things such interesting titles in Lanthimos’ filmography, however, is that there is a complex aesthetic paired with the director’s surrealistic approach to story, characters, and dialogue. The protagonists and antagonists alike are strange, but they also live outlandish and foreign existences (with the fantastical world of the latter obviously being a bit more outlandish and foreign than 18th century Great Britain in the former). These heightened environments arguably made Lanthimos’ auteur voice more palatable – but with Kinds Of Kindness, he’s made a return to his bread and butter, and it’s a mind-boggling, dark pleasure that feels made to be divisive in the best way.

An anthology that foregoes having a wraparound story, the film is a triptych of shorts featuring a common ensemble cast, with the main common thread between them being bizarre relationships with emphasis on control and obedience. Each is introduced with a title relating to a mysterious and silent character named R.M.F. (Yorgos Stefanakos), who has small but significant parts to play.

“The Death Of R.M.F.” centers on a man named Robert Fletcher (Jesse Plemons), who has an agreement with a man named Raymond (Willem Dafoe) to have his entire life dictated and scheduled – but he is conflicted when he is instructed to commit an extreme albeit planned crime. In “R.M.F. Is Flying,” a police officer (Plemons) starts emotionally slipping when his wife (Emma Stone) mysteriously disappears at sea, but upon her return, he isn’t sure she is who she says she is. And finally, in “R.M. F. Eats A Sandwich,” two agents (Stone, Plemons) are dispatched by a cult to follow up on leads to try and find a woman whom they are told has the ability to bring the dead back to life.

It oxymoronically balances bluntness and subtly in such a way that you’re constantly surprised and working to grapple with what the work is throwing at you. An uncanny valley-esque atmosphere floats through the near-three-hour feature as a familiar world clashes with extreme and alien behavior, and it pelts you with oddity in such a way that equally inspires both laughter and deep thought about what Yorgos Lanthimos and co-writer Efthimis Filippou are trying to say with the trio of narratives.

Each segment in Kinds Of Kindness builds like a puzzle, And it’s wild to see the full picture come together.

From Dogtooth’s exploration of language to Poor Things examining sexual liberation, Yorgos Lanthimos’ works take eccentric angles on fascinating areas of life, and part of what makes Kinds Of Kindness so compelling is the satisfaction of putting together what he is trying to say – as nothing in the film is casual or dumbed down. With each story, you slowly grasp the rules of the world and marvel as the characters both follow and break them (and deal with the consequences). And just when you think you have everything figured out, things take an unexpected left turn, and you are still left chewing on what you witnessed a week after your screening.

The nature of the movie makes it a spoiler minefield, as it’s really best to let each twist and turn in the segments rock you and drop your jaw as they unfold, but to provide a vague example, “R.M.F. Is Flying” finds a way to stir grief, a Capgras delusion, and a dog society into one exceptionally weird stew that has to be consumed to be understood.

Yorgos Lanthimos presents a clean-yet-dirty world and never flinches from anything.

There is a special kind of directness that is present in all of Yorgos Lanthimos’ work, with characters taking matter-of-fact tones even when making outlandish and claims or demands, and that voice is unfiltered in Kinds Of Kindness. If it’s not a sensibility you can get onboard with, you’re in for a long and uncomfortable 164 minutes, but movie-goers who can tune into its frequency will be dazzled. In one breath, the film takes you from a giggle-worthy celebratory dance in a parking lot to shocking, deadly tragedy, and it leaves you dizzy in the best way – with an aesthetic consistency throughout accentuating the acute tonal changes.

As unexpected developments continue to unfold, Lanthimos makes no effort in any way to “protect” the audience: this is the world he designed, and you are going to look at it. There is a rawness in the way in which the characters behave, and it would be a betrayal of that voice to shy away from sex and instances of violence. The experience oscillates between shocking and hilarious and deeply upsetting, and it’s beautifully bold.

Kinds Of Kindness has a tonal consistency through its chapters, but it’s a blast to see the range demonstrated by the film’s stars.

Obviously, nothing is hurt by Kinds Of Kindness employing some of the best actors currently working today. While there is commonality between the three stories in aesthetics and tone, all of the performers get to show off different colors in each of their roles, and it’s a credit to their skills how they stand apart. Following up what can be described as one of the best performances of the 21st century in Poor Things, Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos again prove to be a perfect collaborative match, the actress shining in “R.M. F. Eats A Sandwich” – and Willem Dafoe and Margaret Qualley in particular are standouts in their various supporting roles.

Continuing a 2024 streak that started with Alex Garland’s Civil War, it’s Jesse Plemons who emerges as the work’s MVP, however,  from the lost and confused Robert in “The Death Of R.M.F.,” the spiraling Daniel “R.M.F. Is Flying,” or the devout Andrew in “R.M. F. Eats A Sandwich.” While the characters aren’t individually wildly different people, Plemons provides a unique energy to each one that has them stand apart even as the stories unfurl back-to-back-to-back.

Arriving at a fascinating point in Yorgos Lanthimos’ career. Kinds Of Kindness will be a litmus test for some movie-goers as they discover where they stand in appreciation for the writer/director. It’s certainly not a film for neophytes when it comes to Lanthimos’ work. But in contrast, those who already know and love his work are going to be deeply satisfied by this epic weird-fest.

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