Close this search box.

Kinds of Kindness review: Lanthimos returns to his roots

Three characters lean on one another in Kinds of Kindness

Kinds of Kindness feels like a return to pre-The Favourite Yorgos Lanthimos: a haunting, clever watch that will enthral you with infectious weirdness throughout.

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Run Time: 164′
US Release: June 21, 2024
UK Release: June 28, 2024
Where to watch: in theaters

A new Yorgos Lanthimos film always feels like a cause for celebration, and the Cannes screening of Kinds of Kindness couldn’t have started in a better way, with the entire audience excitedly clapping along to the notes of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” which started playing the moment the Searchlight Pictures logo showed up on the screen.

That shared moment in the audience set the tone for the rest of the movie, which truly feels like an experience. Kinds of Kindness is a journey that needs to be taken without asking too many questions, but simply immersing yourself in the oddities on the screen, letting it envelop you in a very specific kind of feeling that only a director like Yorgos Lanthimos can conjure up.

What exactly are the “kinds of kindness” the title refers to? What’s the underlying theme that connects the three very separate stories the movie is made of? And what is Lanthimos trying to tell us in the end? Judging by everyone’s faces as we all exited the Cannes screening, I wasn’t the only person asking myself these very questions. But what I was left with was a feeling that I haven’t been able to shake yet, and that has had me thinking about what it means to be human ever since Jesse Plemons first made an appearance as the unfortunate Robert.

Like most of the cast of Kinds of Kindness, Jesse Plemons plays three characters. The film is divided in three separate tales, each introduced by an appropriately cryptic title, and each exploring various aspects of the human condition. Right away, we are treated to the most compelling part of the movie: a man named Robert (Plemons) seems to be doing everything another man named Raymond (Willem Dafoe) tells him to do. Whether Raymond is his actual manager or not is unclear, but what’s evident from the start is that the two of them seem to have agreed to some sort of business arrangement – one that Robert isn’t always comfortable with.

Raymond is an incredibly invasive presence in Robert and his hilariously apprehensive wife Sarah’s (Hong Chau) lives, as it’s the former who decides exactly how our unwitting protagonist should spend his days. The man decides which books Robert should read, when he should be intimate with his wife, and what exactly he should be doing every single minute of his existence. Not only that, but Raymond acts as a puppeteer who even has the power to influence events, and mold Robert’s life however he pleases. But when the former asks the latter to do something that might cause someone else harm, Robert is torn. Which is exactly when we realize that this business arrangement is much more complex that we thought it was.

A man and a woman face each other in front of a residential building at night in the film Kinds of Kindness
Kinds of Kindness (Searchlight Pictures / Cannes Film Festival)

What would happen to our lives if we were to take away free will? Would we feel trapped and powerless, or would the stranger pulling the strings actually manage to turn us into a better version of ourselves? And when it came to the most immoral decisions, would we be consumed by guilt or would not having to take responsibility for our own actions be oddly liberating?

Kind of Kindness‘ first act is titled “The Death of R.M.F.”, and those are the initials of a character (Yorgos Stefanakos) who’s key to all three tales, tying them together and adding subtext to a film that’s so dense with symbolism. But R.M.F. are also the initials of most of the characters in the movie, and each viewer is bound to interpret its three chapters in different ways. What happens in the rest of the film is best left unspoiled, but I personally wanted the second story to be bleaker and the third one more daring.

Yet Kinds of Kindness is without a doubt an achievement for every single person involved in the production, from its incredible cast to DOP Robbie Ryan (Poor Things, C’mon C’mon), sound designer Johnnie Burn (The Zone of Interest) and, of course, writer-director Lanthimos and co-writer/frequent collaborator Efthimis Filippou (The Lobster). Kinds of Kindness was filmed right after Poor Things, and there are Bella Baxter influences to be found in some of the characters played by Stone; on top of this, it feels like the movie could have been a better product if Lanthimos and Filippou had spent more time developing its second half, which comes across as less thematically coherent than the others.

But it’s also wonderful to see Yorgos Lanthimos back to his pre-The Favourite days, with a movie that manages to be absolutely hilarious thoughout in the most unexpected of ways, while also tackling human relationships, moral philosophy, social constraints, our need for control or lack thereof, religious fanaticism as a means to overcome grief, the lengths we’d go to to get what we want, and the obsessions that keep us sane while driving us to do unthinkable things. In the best Lanthimos tradition, he does it by showing us the ugliest traits of humanity; yet, there’s also room for hope in this dark, often ruthless fable, and it’s conveyed at times by animals – the only characters in the film who aren’t human, and yet seem to possess and embody those values that we desperately strive to achieve – and at times, ironically, through R.M.F. himself.

Kinds of Kindness Trailer (Searchlight Pictures)

Kinds of Kindness doesn’t reach the heights of The Lobster and Dogtooth, but it’s a welcome return to the kind of Lanthimos cinema we missed in his most commercially beloved films. Though it’s over two hours long, it’s so well paced, darkly entertaining, jam packed with oddities and psychologically intriguing characters, and dense with thought-provoking themes that you won’t notice its length at all. If you’re a fan of the director’s early work, you will be mesmerized by Kinds of Kindness, a film where he once again puts up a mirror to our flawed society and shows us the worst, and also the best, that humanity has to offer.

Kinds of Kindness premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2024. The film will be released in select US theaters on June 21, 2024, in UK cinemas on June 28, and in various countries from June 6.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan on Poor Things – Loud And Clear Reviews
Interview: Poor Things cinematographer Robbie Ryan tells us about shooting with ektachrome and LED lights, the worlds in the film, and more.
Thank you for reading us! If you’d like to help us continue to bring you our coverage of films and TV and keep the site completely free for everyone, please consider a donation.