KINDS OF KINDNESS

★★★

A LURID YET LENGTHY YORGOS LANTHIMOS MOVIE

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Charlie David Page
10th June 2024

The name Yorgos Lanthimos comes with a certain level of prestige these days. The director's films are met with huge anticipation, eagerly awaited by cinema fans. Each to date has had its own distinct appeal, while also retaining a feel that's unique to Lanthimos - 'Poor Things', 'The Favourite', 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer', 'The Lobster', 'Alps', 'Dogtooth', 'Kinetta'. What all have in common is that none have stories that are ordinary - they all capture something which is a little (or substantially) offbeat, peculiar, or disturbing. Coming to us less than a year after his last offering, 'Kinds of Kindness' doesn't break that mould... and in fact, could be his hardest film to encapsulate to date.

Lanthimos reunites with 'Poor Things' cast members Emma Stone ('The Favourite', 'La La Land'), Willem Dafoe ('The Lighthouse', 'The Florida Project') and Margaret Qualley ('Sanctuary', 'Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood'), and is joined by Jesse Plemons ('Civil War', 'Killers of the Flower Moon'), Hong Chau ('The Menu', 'The Whale') and Mamoudou Athie ('Elemental', 'Jurassic World Dominion'). This time around, however, we have three stories within the one film, with an interchangeable cast playing distinctive parts: the first, a man tries to take his life back from his controlling boss, but by doing so only seems to worsen the situation; the second, a wife returns after being lost at sea for a mysteriously long time and her husband observes peculiar differences; and the third, a cult member is exiled and must find a chosen individual to redeem herself.

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It's challenging to review this as a film in its entirety with this format, although it's not unique in this style; the excellent 'Wild Tales' comes to mind. There is a throughline of isolation for each story's key character, and they each face a hurdle to overcome that loneliness. There is a consistency with the cast here - as with all of Lanthimos' recent films - he has a close relationship with the actors, and works with a high calibre of artists with the capacity to carry the bizarre storylines he's become known for; in this case, co-written by Lanthimos and long-time partner-in-prime Efthimis Filippou; the pair previously worked together on 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer', 'The Lobster', 'Alps' and 'Dogtooth'. Don't feel any concern that the mileage of that partnership may have diluted the outlandishness - the Australian premiere screening at the Sydney Film Festival saw no less than a dozen walkouts, with content including polyamory, domestic violence, miscarriages, abortions, cannibalism, self-mutilation, sex cults, rape and suicide.

While Emma Stone is inevitably excellent and steals the show with her performances, Jesse Plemons is perhaps given the meatiest (pun intended) roles across the three parts, which is wonderful to see. He's been criminally underutilised in lead roles, while across a gamut of genres has proven himself to be a powerful force in smaller parts - take 'The Power of the Dog' and 'Game Night', for example. In two out of the three stories he has the prime part, and offers us such a different element of himself in each. In contrast, each time Hong Chau appears on screen I only want to see more of her; her presence is truly captivating. Mamoudou Athie showcases both his dramatic and comedic skills as the best friend in the second sketch, while Margaret Qualley outscores everyone else by portraying four parts, stretching her skills to play twins in the final story.

There is a consistency with the cast here - as with all of Lanthimos' recent work - the filmmaker has a close relationship with the actors, and works with a high calibre of artists with the capacity to carry the bizarre storylines he's become known for.

While a large part of Lanthimos' work (particularly when paired with Filippou) is to leave the audience with questions, there was one in particular that left me somewhat troubled - would this film have worked in the hands of a lesser cast? They are, without doubt, the crucial component here. At 2 hours and 45 minutes, these stories aren't exactly concise. A lot of detail - and breathing room - has been included. There are points where the run time could have been worked on to improve the overall flow of the stories, and had they been perceived more as short films rather than an overly indulgent feature, we could have arrived at the same endpoint yet with a diminished duration.

As is a key feature in any Lanthimos/Filippou script, dark comedy is certainly present in 'Kinds of Kindness'. However, with so much time required to set up the multiple characters and storylines, the comedy here is much deeper and more intermittent. While consistently clever, the laugh-out-loud (or even chuckle-worthy) moments are rarer than previous films. Having experienced 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer' at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2017, and knowing the possibility of sharing a truly darkly funny Lanthimos film with a festival audience, it was an element that was notably diminished.

Still, it's a remarkable achievement to compile three fragmented stories with a troupe of actors portraying different characters, and having it come off as a cohesive film. Once again, Yorgos Lanthimos will leave you with plenty to take away and consider - and while this may not be his strongest work in recent years, it still offers something curious and distinctive. More than anything, it allows us an opportunity to see multiple perspectives of some of the most interesting actors working at the moment, with a script that plays into their talents. 'Kinds of Kindness' provides a kind of twisted joy you won't find anywhere else, brought to the screen by an uncompromising creative team.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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