Directed by Steven Soderbergh | Written by David Koepp | 89 min | Crave | ▲▲▲▲△
It’s hard to believe Steven Soderbergh retired from making feature films a few years ago given the tear he’s been on since he returned to the fray. In just the past 16 months he’s released Let Them All Talk, No Sudden Move, and now Kimi. And there’s little about at least the past two movies, sterling thrillers both, that feels hurried at all.
If anything, Kimi is even crispier than the last picture, bringing in Hitchcock, Ford Coppola, Fincher, and the best central performance of the young year.
That’s Zoë Kravitz as Angela Childs. She lives in a sprawling loft space in Seattle, all hardwood floors and exposed concrete — dreamy, in other words. She doesn’t have much of a view, however — she looks across to the similarly dreamy apartments of her neighbours. (And you’re suddenly thinking of Rear Window, you’re not far wrong.)
Angela’s job is to help a Siri-like desktop virtual assistant — the “Kimi” of the title —solve problems by providing a human element to its learning algorithm, reviewing times when its machine mind couldn’t answer a user’s question. So Angela spends her days listening to other people.
Angela hears something she can’t explain, which sounds like an assault. She puts aside all other concerns to mix down background noise to better hear what’s going on there. (And if you’re thinking of The Conversation, you’re also not far wrong.)
She ignores her therapist’s concern that she not obsess. She struggles with her mental health, to the point where she can’t find it in her to go out her front door.
The first half of the film is almost exclusively within Angela’s space and the walls of her life, but when she finds the strength and the necessity to exit, Soderbergh (using his cinematographic alias Peter Andrews) shoots her like David Fincher shot Rooney Mara in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Like Lisbeth Salander, all of Angela’s body language is saying: stay away.
What works especially well here are the brushes of science fiction that are really science fact, but this isn’t all paranoid thriller territory. Kimi is a reminder that in our omni-surveilled existence technology is still a tool under our control. It only preys on us if we let it. It also goes so far to suggest while our privacy is a thing of the past, others’ interest in us can be benign, even kind. Kimi even works the pandemic into the story, but not so much it’s a drag.
But people being kind to each other isn’t much of threat to hinge a thriller on, so instead Kimi tells us about the cold calculation of corporate mentality, of human vanity and weakness balanced against massive wealth. A quotidian and recognizable reality, then.
The score is a gorgeous mix of electronica, solo piano and Bernard Herrmann-inflected atmosphere from frequent Soderbergh collaborator Cliff Martinez, and the sound editing is next level — from the silence when Angela puts on her noise-cancelling headphones to a moment in the back of a van where all we hear is the clatter of desperation.
By the time we get a triumphant needle-drop of Elastica’s “Connection,” making explicit the themes of the project, we’ve had our ears pinned back by an excellent, slick, and occasionally even emotional piece of work. Kimi reminds us Steven Soderbergh is one of the most precise, creatively restless filmmakers working.