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Review: ‘Kinds of Kindness’ Magnetizes and Intrigues but Doesn’t Fully Deliver

Yorgos Lanthimos has established a general sense of audience expectations for his projects, which typically follow quirky individuals navigating unusual, often larger-than-life circumstances and encountering dark twists of fate. His films are certainly not for everyone, and usually probe disturbing territory, rarely in pursuit of a happy ending. After directing Olivia Colman and Emma Stone to Oscar wins for Best Actress for The Favourite and Poor Things, respectively, Lanthimos reunites with his writing partner Efthimis Filippou for his latest feature, an anthology film that traffics in exactly the unsettling themes he always loves to explore.

Kinds of Kindness is separated into three different parts, all of which are ostensibly linked by a character known as R.M.F who appears in the chapter title of each. In the first, a man (Jesse Plemons) lives his life in diligent servitude to another (Willem Dafoe) and begins to see the consequences of disobedience when he deems one order too much. In the second, another man (Plemons) doesn’t believe that the woman (Emma Stone) who returns home after going missing is in fact his wife. In the third, two people (Plemons and Stone) hunt for a miraculous individual who can revive the dead in the hopes of fulfilling their predetermined purpose.

As with many of Lanthimos’ scenarios, there is little explanation offered for how the universes these characters inhabit exist. There are elements of the supernatural in all of them, with a dystopian, mind-control slant for the first, a foreboding terror in the second, and a cult mentality to drive the third. He also doesn’t apologize for the nature of his content, which will definitely be off-putting for many, even those who don’t mind engaging with twisted ideas that may haunt their nightmares. This is pure psychological horror, examining the darkest recesses of the human mind and extracting peculiar material that’s capable of being both frightening and funny at the same time.

Audiences will likely prefer one of the three segments over the other two, and for this reviewer, the first is the clear standout. Similar to The Lobster, its world feels meticulously choreographed and sterilized, fascinating in its construction and remarkably engaging to watch. Its protagonist’s perseverance first in blindly following his instructions and then his desperation in trying to rectify his mistake is mesmerizing, most reminiscent of Filippou’s solo script for 2018’s Pity. While creative, the second chapter leans into the physically unnerving in a less appealing way, while the third feels less tethered to structure, inventive but a bit wilder and more freewheeling.

However each segment hits viewers, its performers remain extraordinary throughout them all. Plemons, an Oscar nominee for The Power of the Dog and the Best Actor victor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for this film, has a startling physicality that guides all three of his characters, beginning with his well-manicured look in the first, his reserved tightness in the second, and his lankiness in oversized clothes in the third. He’s an exceptional talent who’s put to very productive use here. Stone, recently awarded her second Oscar, shows typical range, but these turns have nothing on Bella Baxter. Dafoe, another returning player from Poor Things, is perfectly cast, and Hong Chau, Mamoudou Athie, and Margaret Qualley are given fitting parts in all three vignettes.

For those keeping close watch of Lanthimos’ filmography, this film feels like a throwback to some of his earlier work like Dogtooth and The Lobster, not nearly as pitch-black as The Killing of a Sacred Deer or as playful as The Favourite. Its original screenplay also separates it from Poor Things, which, while heavily influenced by Lanthimos’ approach, remains an adaptation. It’s possible that focusing on just one of these three tales might have made for a tighter and more effective viewing experience, but as with any Lanthimos production, being divisive and disturbing is all part of the package.

Movie Rating: 6/10

Awards Buzz: Coming off Oscar love for Poor Things, nominations are absolutely likely, especially for Plemons, who has been waiting for a lead role like this. Its anthology format might not otherwise do it any favors, but its place at least in the conversation is probable.

Author

  • Abe Friedtanzer

    Abe Friedtanzer is a film and TV enthusiast who spent most of the past fifteen years in New York City. He has been the editor of MoviesWithAbe.com and TVwithAbe.com since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them.

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