When did Zoë Kravitz get so good? In Kimi she’s not only the star of the film but almost the only person in it, and she has a grip like a tractor beam on the attention. It helps that she’s beautiful, of course, but there’s more going on here than that.
She plays Angela, a shut-in with a string of emotional conditions, among them germophobia, ADHD, paranoia, neurosis, which suits her job as a human hired to tweak the algorithm of a Siri-like virtual assistant. When someone shouts, “Kimi, you’re a peckerwood,” she’s the one who later adds definitions for “peckerwood” in Kimi’s onboard dictionary – Kimi is always listening. And the covid pandemic, which persists in the residual mask-wearing of the people she sees from her window, has only made her condition worse.
Steven Soderbergh directs and is his own DP, as usual, giving us visual references to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, while the screenplay by David Koepp recycles elements of another “eavesdropper thriller” – Antonioni’s Blow Up. Except, instead of our doughty hero having to decipher nefarious goings-on from a photograph, here Angela comes to believe that a woman has been assaulted, or worse, and that the evidence for that is contained one of Kimi’s recordings. A nice excuse for Soderbergh to indulge his love of tech in scenes where Angela runs the recording through various bits of electronic filtration until…
Soderbergh can’t be unaware of the fact that his Contagion became very much the movie of the moment at the beginning of the covid pandemic, but he’s a long way from vainglory here, instead delivering a fine genre thriller that’s all about craft – this is a superbly shot and edited film, visually poetic even, with a soundtrack (by Cliff Martinez) that enhances the tension, and it does get tense.
For fun, there are reminders of 1940s noirish thrillers – dreamy, echoey-voiced dissolves – and a bit of Die Hard action heroics as the Amygdala corporation gets wind of what Angela has found and sends in the bad guys, forcing Angela into the aircon ducting, and other places. Even outside.
This aspect of the story – big bad megatech – feels like a rote bit of plotting, relying on huge coincidence to fuel a conspiratorial turn and not saying much about social media corporations and their owners that most people haven’t already thought. The #MeToo-style revelation also feels a bit crowbarred in and comes a bit late to be really meaningful. Koepp’s story was doing fine without them, though the writer/co-writer of Carlito’s Way, the original Jurassic Park, the original Spider-Man movie and Panic Room doesn’t need lessons from anyone.
What is interesting and different as an idea is the notion that it’s the most fearful – Angela – who actually turn out to be the most capable when the chips are down, because they’ve lived through the situations already a thousand times and are ready for them, at some instinctive level.
In her blue bob, Kravitz is on screen the entire time, often in cute close-up. Calling her “efficient” sounds like a bit of a put-down, but she puts in a pared-down, lean, no-frills performance designed to aid the forward propulsion of the drama and does it with skill, managing to generate empathy for a character it would be easy not to like. And to think in the recent The Batman, as Catwoman, there was little sign of what we get here – thrust into a proper leading role, Kravitz has raised her game.
The result is a Steven Soderbergh thriller that is so well made and performed that it might slip by almost unnoticed, the sort of film that appears almost to have made itself.
Kimi – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
© Steve Morrissey 2022