Kimi occasionally falters in terms of character and dramaturgy, but Soderbergh’s latest is still a slick, undeniably cool Hitchcockian riff on smart technology’s dual nature.
While it seems that Steven Soderbergh’s interest in the iPhone as a tool for creating cinematic image has waned, his fascination with the device’s reality-altering potential and totemic qualities apparently lingers. His latest, the David Koepp-scripted Zoë Kravitz vehicle Kimi picks up where iPhone-shot features Unsane and High Flying Bird left off (albeit with a more standardized, RED look), this time dressed up like a Hitchcock thriller, with a scope that brings smart technologies into consideration.
As introduced in the film’s opening moments, the company behind Kimi, a virtual assistant technology and Alexa competitor, is preparing to announce their IPO, set at an impressive asking price based off their unique incorporation of human analysts who comb through audio recordings of software/user miscommunications and issue corrections regarding slang, nuance of language, etc. A riff on Hitchcock’s Rear Window (a lofty comparison aided by Cliff Martinez’ solid, Bernard Hermann-y score, though otherwise not lived up to formally), Kimi is, for its first half, a single-setting thriller that sticks to its protagonist’s spacious Seattle apartment. Kravitz’s Angela (whose name is definitely not Kimi) is an archetypal tech worker of one kind or another, living a fit, regimented lifestyle and clearly making good money off her savvy, but she’s also agoraphobic and deeply distressed by the outside world, particularly as COVID seemingly persists. Currently employed as a Kimi analyst, Angela picks up an audio recording that seems to have captured a woman’s assault, partially drowned out by music, which she’s able to clear up and confirm as such. Thus begins the search — initially online, then in the “real world” — for the origins of the recording. This is much to the chagrin of Kimi corporate, whose main priority is ensuring that their first day of public trading makes them all super rich.
A Hollywood mega screenwriter (everything from Jurassic Park to Ricky Gervais vehicle Ghost Town), Koepp insists on incorporating a traumatic origin for Angela’s condition that plays pretty cheaply, but his script’s clean thriller plotting almost makes up for it. At the very least it provides Soderbergh a nicely defined structure to work within, Koepp’s confident pacing a refreshing switch-up from the airier, Lem Dobbs-type thriller writing the director tends to prefer. Working from this sort of template inspires a slicker, more methodical approach to editing and camera movement from this filmmaker (Soderbergh in charge of both here, under pseudonyms) than we’ve seen in some years, locating an energy and liveliness in Kravitz’s confident keystroke and purposeful movement between windows that distracts from the fact that we occupy a single space with her for most of Kimi’s 90-minute runtime. Kravitz’s performance helps this along too, a bit tic-heavy but in keeping with the rhythms of the film’s plotting and editing, particularly as Angela leaves her apartment in the second half and Soderbergh introduces a sort of time-lapsed aesthetic to give visual manifest to her anxieties. These playful flourishes keep Kimi interesting enough and remind that Soderbergh is at his most appealing when in proximity to Hollywood (i.e. he makes Koepp’s script much cooler, while Koepp’s script provides him useful boundaries), although it’s also perhaps that same industry’s conventions that insist upon the deeply stupid final minutes that cap off this movie. Still, Kimi is certainly Soderbergh’s most satisfying production since High Flying Bird, and while it may fall a bit short with its characters and some elements of dramaturgy — any number of plot beats are set up only to be left dangling — it offers interesting considerations of our smart devices as tools with the dual purpose of empowering and oppressing, just as that previous project did. Bird had a bit more going for it with its excellent Tarell Alvin McCraney screenplay, but Kimi’s own depiction of this struggle — to wield these technologies and not be overtaken by them — has an edge in that it comes with an urgency too immediate and relatable to entirely ignore.
You can currently stream Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi on HBO Max.