Zoë Kravitz in Steven Soderbergh’s tough little cyber thriller.
One of the several small pleasures of Kimi, the new Steven Soderbergh movie, is the stylish ease with which it's been crafted. After 33 years of making every kind of picture, from spy thrillers and romcoms to mega-budget star product and semi-improvisational whatchamacallits, Soderbergh is still in love with movies. At this point he probably could have turned out a modestly budgeted film like Kimi during nap times. But no naps were taken—the movie is alive with the director's customary wit and concentration, and the making of it (under difficult lockdown conditions) clearly had his full attention.
The story is an exercise in techno-paranoia, which is always fun, with echoes of such genre classics as Coppola's The Conversation, De Palma's Blow Out, and Antonioni's Blowup, along with grateful nods to Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. (Cliff Martinez, who composed the score, does an arresting job of suggesting the somber themes written by Bernard Herrmann for other Hitchcock films like Psycho and Vertigo.) The clever script, by David Koepp, looks around at the shifting realities of our current cultural moment without getting over-dramatically bent out of shape about what it finds. Although we might.
The film's focus is on Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz), a Seattle computer hermit employed by the ominously named Amygdala Corporation to help perfect a Siri-like household gadget called Kimi. Angela is a mess, a woman so hobbled by agoraphobia—and the drugs she's given to fight it—that she can't bear to leave her loft apartment (which is actually okay, it's huge, and totally deluxe). Her life is one long zoom call—to her bosses, to her mom (Robin Givens)—and the only people with whom she regularly interacts in the real world are two men who live in the building across the street from her own: Terry (Byron Bowers), whom she uses for occasional taco-truck companionship and no-strings booty calls, and a beardy guy we later learn is named Kevin (Devin Ratray), who spends a lot of time at his window with a pair of binoculars and is thus barely on anybody's radar.
Angela's job is to monitor misunderstandings between the Kimis of the world and their owners, and flag them for technical attention. Analyzing a Kimi recording one day, she hears a snippet of conversation between a man and a woman that indicates that something alarming happened. But where? And to whom? Angela alerts her immediate superior, a man named Holloway (Andy Daly), who dismisses her worries and orders her to erase the recording. "I thought it might have been a crime," Angela tells him. "Our policy is, it's not our business," he says.
Isolated as she is—by the pandemic, by the atomization of online life—Angela has no idea what deadly trouble she's suddenly in. And we soon see she'll be getting no help from her corporate bosses, who all seem to be creeps, especially a shameless liar named Chowdhury (Rita Wilson, cast wonderfully way against type) and a smarmy exec named Bradley (Derek DelGaudio), who's counting down the millions he'll be making from an upcoming IPO (as long as this Angela problem can be dealt with).
Zoë Kravitz uses her natural quiet and watchfulness to turn the hollowed-out Angela into an affecting character. We watch her stiffly shuffling around her apartment, or grimly scurrying along a street (on a rare visit to the outside world) with her face aimed straight down at the ground, and Kravitz succeeds in making us feel this character's very modern variety of pain. While the end of the movie might strike some viewers as too film-geeky (it sends the story sailing off into an old Abel Ferrara movie), everything that precedes it does a knowing job of cranking up tension and diminishing, at least a little bit, whatever faith in human concern and kindness we might have brought into the theatre with us. In Angela's cramped world, the last thing you want to hear anyone say is, "You've called exactly the right person."