As befitting its title, the characters with which Lone Scherfig populates The Kindness of Strangers prove the shining emotional heart of the drama. Getting them all together takes some contrivance, not to mention tireless work from nurse-by-day, charity-worker-by-night Alice (a luminous turn from Andrea Riseborough). Some of these figures – notably Caleb Landry Jones’ inept young worker – feel slightly caricatured due to this broad scope and 112-minute run time; however, the relationships feel genuine. These varied and increasingly deep connections allow a nuanced, naturalistic portrait of lives at crossroads to emerge.
Scherfig’s New York is far from romanticised; it teeters between indifferent and hostile, especially when it concerns Clara’s (a faultless Zoe Kazan) flight from her abusive police officer husband in the height of winter. If this is a love letter to the city, it is a love letter to the warmth and humanity of its inhabitants. At times, the deliberate pacing and nondescript action borders on the static, but when the genuinely terrifying stakes are raised, this quiet focus on the characters’ all-too-human words, actions and consequences allows their full impact to ring true. The dialogue has a stilted quality which occasionally distracts but mostly works to mark the characters as outsiders, transients or otherwise uncomfortable in their lives, contributing a melancholic empathy to the proceedings.
While Kazan and Riseborough carry the film, Tahar Rahim and Jay Baruchel sketch out a quiet, morally conflicted dignity in their respective roles. Bill Nighy’s jaded restaurateur provides moments of levity that enhance the overall humanity.
The Kindness of Strangers is a beautifully drawn study of choices, be they large and instantly life-changing or small and unmeasurably life-saving. The purposeful world-building sets up a devastatingly beautiful final act that promises hope, not perfection, for the infinitely kind people Scherfig so lovingly introduces to viewers.
CAST: Zoe Kazan, Andrea Riseborough, Tahar Rahim, Caleb Landry Jones, Jay Baruchel, Bill Nighy
DIRECTOR: Lone Scherfig
WRITER: Lone Scherfig
SYNOPSIS: A woman on the run from her abusive husband finds connection with a nurse and an ex-con in New York City.