David Jenkins


Kinds of Kindness – first-look review

Yorgos Lanthimos returns with another scorcher in this innovative and darkly comic trio of films about spiritual domination.

Some guy once said some words that resonated with some other guys, and those words were: “God is dead”. I allude to that quotation because the Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos definitely has other ideas. It’s hard to see his work as being spiritual, or interested in matters of religious dogma. He merely believes that God is very much alive, because how else would He be able to torment humankind with every available resource in His considerable arsenal?

The ironically titled Kinds of Kindness is a sun-bleached triptych in which various people have their lives violently upended by some variety of God-like presence. In the first short, titled The Death of R.M.F., Jesse Plemons’ character gets to play sub to God’s dom (played by Willem Dafoe, obvs) in a tall tale of deathly power games and premium sports memorabilia.

A divine hand, a cruel and manipulative one, hovers over the second short, R.M.F Is Flying, in which Emma Stone’s lost-at-sea marine biologist returns home to discover that her doting husband (Plemons) believes her to be an imposter and insists that she prove her worth.

Finally, in R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich, Stone and Plemons play a pair of sexy brainwashed disciples, executing the surreal bidding of a Svengali power-couple (Dafoe and Hong Chau) who are searching for the key to bodily resurrection. The “R.M.F.” that features in the three titles denotes the initials of a man (his full name is never revealed) who is the only character that features in all three films, suggesting that, even though all the other actors play different roles, the events all occur on some kind of linear timeline.

Kinds of Kindness sees Lanthimos reconnecting with screenwriter Efthymis Filippou, with whom he made The Lobster, Alps, Dogtooth and Killing of a Sacred Deer. This new film sees the pair working in a new, more-sophisticated and coruscating register than ever before, as their abiding concerns are this time pushed further and harder. The pressures that come from submitting to a force of sublime dominance inevitably lead to transgression, and in this instance, the moments of splenetic violence, when they come, are funnier, grimmer, more shocking and even more euphoric than they’ve ever been before.

Another returning partnership is with cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who came on board for The Favourite with a measure of reticence, but has not looked back since. While he was given free reign to delve into his treasure-box of weird vintage lenses for 2023’s Poor Things, here we have something visually closer to the Robby Müller-like vistas and “Americana” in quote marks of Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. While the locations and sets are noticeably sparse (because why do you need trinkets when you have a God?), Lanthimos uses the the frame to highlight humorous domestic objects that draw they eye like still life subjects (an umbrella stand, a glass, a ketchup bottle).

And he’s gathered around him a primo acting ensemble – everyone involved got the memo and does what is expected of them (which, in same cases, is a lot). Stone delivered an all-timer performance in Poor Things, and she continues down the path of becoming an actor of rare fearlessness and charisma with this one. Plemons recalibrates the deadpan drawl that has supercharged such mid-tier comic works as Game Night and makes a smooth entry into Lanthimos’ world. Willem Dafoe is Willem Dafoe, one of the most reliable actors in the game, while Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn, Hong Chau and Mamoudou Athie round things out perfectly.

Indeed, beyond its direct subject matter, the film is also something of an ode to experimental theatre, as it feels as if we’re watching a well-oiled troupe who are able to slink into different roles and guises at the drop of a hat. And aren’t actors, in their own weird way, types of god – able to fabricate omnipotence, hypnotise an audience with their voice and movement, intoxicate us with their allure.

Published 17 May 2024

Tags: Emma Stone Hong Chau Jesse Plemons Joe Alwyn Willem Dafoe Yorgos Lanthimos

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Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.