We are living in a time where award winning director Steven Soderbergh is just dropping all of his new films directly to the comforts of our own homes via HBO Max. What a time to be alive! Soderbergh is an acquired taste, and his latest film “Kimi” is no exception. Tight, slow, and patient with a tinge of minimalist spending and some indie student film camera work (intentional and masterful by the way) are all staples of the veteran director, and his latest thriller feels deeply personal. Powered by a strong performance from Zoë Kravitz, “Kimi” manages to feel like the first, real pandemic movie that captures our needs for connection in a time of lock down, our reliance on technology, and powerful people doing very bad things. It is tight and concise, and while it may be too much of a slow burn for some, this is a thriller with something to say.
Written by David Koepp (“Jurassic Park,” “Mission Impossible,” “Spiderman” 2022) and directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Kimi” tells the story of a new smart speaker named Kimi from the rising start up company Amygdala headed by CEO Bradly Hastings. They are on the brink of an IPO launch, which will transform them from a start up to a major technological player. What sets Kimi apart is that it employs human data analysts to clear through error logs when Kimi doesn’t understand context commands, allowing the speaker to learn and relearn in real time. Angela Childs (Kravitz) is one of these analysts working from home during the pandemic lockdowns, who suffers from crippling anxiety and agoraphobia due to a previous assault. During one of her streams, she hears what she believes is a crime, possibly a murder. Of course, what she heard is no ordinary crime, and Childs becomes entangled in a web of lies and power grabs all while running for her life to try and reveal these dark discoveries to the right people.
“Kimi” is actually incredibly simple, and Soderbergh is smart enough to keep everything moving while also displaying immense patience that creates a familiar, unsettling pandemic atmosphere. This allows the film to really drive home the themes of paranoia and isolation, as well as get out quite a bit of social commentary without ever feeling heavy handed or pandering. In any less capable hands, I don’t know that it works as well as it does. It is completely predicated on the Soderbergh style fueling the simplistic story, and you can see how others may get lost in the material and prioritize many of the wrong things that occur in the film. Thankfully for us, the film tops out a cool 89 minutes. No bloat, no unnecessary subplots, no overly exaggerated Hollywood action. It is rather impressive to watch Soderbergh say so much with so little, and it sets “Kimi” a part from many of its other thriller counterparts.
While Soderbergh’s behind the camera work elevates Koepp’s solid script, it’s Zoë Kravitz that really brings “Kimi” to life. I’ve never had anything against Kravitz, but I haven’t particularly cared for a number of her projects over the years. It is clear that things like the “Divergent” franchise and “Fantastic Beasts” and even “X-Men: First Class” all stifle her immense charisma and charm. They also limit her range, which is on full display here. [Editor’s note: Yeah, but, let’s not forget her turn as Toast the Knowing in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”]
Kravitz plays Childs as both assertive and self assured, but also incredibly paranoid and at times helpless to her own mental health. Kravitz manages to balance all of this, never making light her struggles but never diminishing her intelligence or talents. She is truly great here, and much of “Kimi” is spent watching Childs walk around and work in her apartment. It’s a very solo performance driven type film, and while there are certainly other cast members, nothing works without Kravitz leading the charge.
It is hard to believe that this is Soderbergh’s 7th film in 5 years, and he seems to show no signs of slowing down any time soon. “Kimi” feels deeply personal to everyone involved, and you can tell that he is content to thrive on the smaller screen (which I would argue actually gives us some of his best work). The film is both familiar and unlike any kind of thriller you’ve seen in a long time. It’s got all the nuts and bolts of a run of the mill paranoia thriller about the perils of technology, but something about the blend of Soderbergh’s vision, Koepp’s focused script and Kravitz’s stellar performance makes this film function so much better than the sum of its parts. If you can let it take ahold of you, it will take you an unsettling and unnerving journey that really doesn’t let go until the credits roll. It does require patience, as it is as close to a single setting film that spends a lot of time framing Kravitz doing little else outside of her regimented, isolated routine.
So if you’re still working from home and not ready to throw your mask into the sky and declare the pandemic over, I would highly recommend “Kimi.” I guess even if you are that freedom fighter person I just mentioned, I’d still recommend the film to you, too. The film captures many things of pandemic life we haven’t truly watch unfold on screen, and delivers thrills and strong performances that take their time to unfold and really whisk along once everything gets going.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make sure I’m still in good standing with my Google Home. If the machines do rise up, I want my assistant to remember every time I said thank you.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“Kimi” is now streaming on HBO Max. You can watch the trailer below.
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