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Review: Kinds of Kindness

Kinds of Kindness  marks Yorgos Lanthimos’s return to the unnerving and absurdist realm of his earlier films like "Dogtooth" and "The Lobster." Fresh from the successes of "The Favourite" and "Poor Things," Lanthimos, along with his regular collaborator Efthimis Filippou, crafts a triptych that is equal parts bewildering, darkly comedic, and profoundly thought-provoking. For those less familiar with the eccentric director’s earlier work, Kinds of Kindness may be a bit off putting. For long-time fans, it feels like a big hug of razor blades.


The film opens with Eurythmics’ "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," whose haunting lyrics set the tone for the exploration of power dynamics and human nature that permeates the narrative. The song’s disconcerting lines—“Some of them want to use you. Some of them want to get used by you. Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them want to be abused”—perfectly encapsulate the film’s thematic core.


Kinds of Kindness is structured as three seemingly unconnected stories, each starring the same ensemble cast, including Lanthimos regulars like Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe, and newcomers such as Jesse Plemons and Hong Chau. This casting choice creates a sense of continuity and invites viewers to seek connections between the stories, even as each segment stands distinct in its narrative and tone.


Jesse Plemons, who earned the best actor prize at Cannes for his performance, anchors all three segments with remarkable versatility. In the first story, he plays Robert, an architect whose life is meticulously controlled by his domineering boss Raymond (Willem Dafoe). The unsettling dynamic between Robert and Raymond escalates to dark extremes, showcasing Lanthimos’s signature blend of the bizarre and the macabre.


The second segment shifts gears, with Plemons as Daniel, a cop whose wife Liz (Emma Stone) returns from a mysterious disappearance at sea. Daniel’s conviction that Liz is an imposter introduces a surreal paranoia, amplified by Lanthimos’s deadpan, almost robotic dialogue delivery. This segment is rife with dark humor, highlighted by a scene where Daniel insists on showing his friends a home video that turns out to be an unexpectedly explicit recording.


In the final chapter, Plemons and Stone play Andrew and Emily, members of a peculiar cult led by Dafoe and Chau. Their quest to find a miraculous healer (Margaret Qualley) leads them through increasingly bizarre and unsettling situations. This segment is the most abstract and surreal, pushing the boundaries of narrative coherence in favor of a more visceral, disorienting experience.


Lanthimos’s direction is as visually striking as ever, with Robbie Ryan’s cinematography capturing the eerie, off-kilter atmosphere of each story. The film’s New Orleans setting, stripped of its usual vibrancy, becomes an almost dystopian backdrop that enhances the film’s unsettling mood. The use of minimalist, utilitarian locations—shot during Covid-era vacancies—adds to the film’s sense of isolation and otherworldliness.


Thematically, Kinds of Kindness delves into the darker aspects of human nature, particularly the desire for control and the dynamics of power in relationships. Lanthimos’s characters are often stripped of social niceties, their interactions laid bare to reveal the raw, sometimes grotesque, underpinnings of human behavior. This exploration is particularly evident in the recurring motif of domination and submission, which threads through all three segments.


Kinds of Kindness is not for everyone. Its unsettling content, disjointed narrative, and dark humor will polarize audiences. Yet, for those willing to engage with its complexities, the film offers a rich, multifaceted exploration of the human condition. Lanthimos has crafted a work that is as perplexing as it is compelling, a cinematic puzzle that is as rewarding to dissect as it is to experience. While a tad long, the film is often riveting and hilarious.


Kinds of Kindness finds Yorgos Lanthimos blending his unique brand of dark comedy and surrealism to explore themes of power, control, and identity. With standout performances, particularly from Jesse Plemons and Emma Stone, and a visual style that is both stark and haunting, the film is likely for Lanthimos’s most devout fans. Whether you love it, hate it, or find yourself obsessively analyzing its mysteries, "Kinds of Kindness" is a film that leaves an indelible mark.




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