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“Kinds of Kindness” Never Quite Gels

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 27th, 2024

Kinds of Kindness (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2024) 2½ out of 5 stars

With a single exception—The Killing of a Sacred Deer—I have until now thoroughly enjoyed the films of Yorgos Lanthimos, including the two examples from his Greek period I’ve seen, Dogtooth and Alps. A master of the bizarre, he has often explored a clear obsession with societies, large and small, governed by arcane rules known only to their adherents (if even them). The great joy of his work is to enter those universes and discover what makes them tick.

In Kinds of Kindness, his latest movie, Lanthimos presents a triptych, with the same cast in each story, all playing parts of varying importance in the unfolding narratives. The loose plot thread that connects them all is a minor character with the initials R.M.F. He’s played by Yorgos Stefanakos, an old friend of the director and his co-screenwriter and longtime collaborator, Efthimis Filippou. Thematically, the three stories have some overlap, as well, examining power dynamics in relationships both personal and professional, and, once more, those mysterious customs by which the human animal often chooses to live.

Mamoudou Athie in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima ©2024 Searchlight Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

In “The Death of R.M.F.” (Part 1), an office worker struggles to follow the strict code of conduct imposed by his boss. He can handle everything except the command to possibly kill another person. But what happens when said boss finds a replacement? Sheer terror.

In “R.M.F. Is Flying” (Part 2), a cop whose wife has gone missing on a diving expedition mourns her potential passing, only to be pleasantly surprised when she is discovered and brought home. But something is off. Is she in fact his spouse, or a strange creature who only looks and acts like her?

l-r: Willem Dafoe and Margaret Qualley in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima ©2024 Searchlight Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

In “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich” (Part 3), two members of a cult search for an elusive woman whose healing powers they hope to harness. The all-too-ordinary details of quotidian living get in the way, until one of them receives a clue as to the messiah’s potential whereabouts. All looks good, until disaster strikes.

The ensemble includes Mamoudou Athie (The Burial), Hong Chau (The Whale), Willem Dafoe (Gonzo Girl), Jesse Plemons (Judas and the Black Messiah), Margaret Qualley (Drive-Away Dolls) and Emma Stone (Poor Things), all of whom turn in fine performances no matter what they are asked to do. Lanthimos tends to favor dry and dispassionate—bordering on deadpan—delivery, pushing emotions mostly below the surface until, inevitably, something explodes. As always, his precise mise-en-scène and careful production design add to this sense of meticulous control, which the threat of any kind of disorder might cause to unravel.

top-bottom: Hong Chau and Jesse Plemons in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima ©2024 Searchlight Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

All of that it is to the good. Individual scenes stand out and prove engrossing. I laughed at loud when the first credits came up at the end of the first section, since I hadn’t read the press notes beforehand and knew nothing about the film. And in fact that initial chapter is the strongest, though the final one comes close. The middle is weak, feeling less developed than its bookends. But the absurdity of the entire exercise has appeal, especially when, in the middle of the end credits we see where Part 3 gets its title. The foolishness of so-called civilization is Lanthimos’ stock in trade, and when he keeps his eye on that particular cinematic ball, he often excels.

If the above sounds like I recommend Kinds of Kindness, it’s a very qualified only partial endorsement of certain individual moments. I admire Lanthimos’ artistry and his ambition. I just don’t find the overall experience of these three stories together all that meaningful as a complete movie. The result is a disjointed viewing experience, leaving us as cold and forlorn as a typical Lanthimos character.

Emma Stone in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos ©2024 Searchlight Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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