Review: Steven Soderbergh Returns to Streaming With Kimi, a Tight, Fascinating Thriller About Technology and Credibility

Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh continues his streak of being “retired” from making movies by releasing what I believe is his fourth or fifth movie in a row directly to a streaming service. And while virtually anything would pale in comparison to his last release, No Sudden Move, his latest, Kimi, written by David Koepp, is a very smart thriller with not-too-subtle messages about women’s stories of abuse or assault being ignored either by authorities for any number of circumspect reasons.

Zoë Kravitz plays Angela, a Seattle-based agoraphobic data stream analyst who works for a company that has made a virtual assistant (like Siri or Alexa) that is capable of learning the specifics about its user thanks to people like Angela, who listen to recording of moments when Kimi is stumped and adjust its programming to compensate. It’s fascinating watching Angela incorporate regional dialects or swear words or any anomaly in speech into Kimi’s OS. She’s apparently very good and very fast at her job, but is also trying to conquer her fear of leaving her spacious apartment. She spends a lot of time staring out the window (a la Rear Window) and even has a love interest named Terry (Byron Bowers), who lives across the street and comes over when she invites him. The film is set in the present day, so her agoraphobia has only been made worse by the pandemic, so now her irrational fear of going outside feels far more justified.

One day, Angela receives a recording that she interprets as the sounds of a woman being sexually assaulted and, much like characters in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 thriller, The Conversation, she spends time filtering out background noise and music and manages to isolate just the male and female voices. After being rebuffed by her immediate supervisor (Andy Daly), she moves up the chain of command to the woman in the company whose job it is to handle troubling and possibly criminal recordings, Natalie Chowdhury (a perfectly icy Rita Wilson); everyone in her office seems trained to keep repeating “We take issues like this very seriously,” but not do much about it. And that’s when things get scary, beginning with the fact that Natalie asks Angela to bring the recording to her office, also in Seattle, forcing Angela out of her apartment for the first time in who knows how long.

For a quick, 90-minute movie, Soderbergh manages to pack in a lot of detail about both Angela and the company she works for. Interspersed throughout Angela’s story, we see glimpses of her company’s CEO (Derek DelGaudio) making clandestine payments to a fixer just as the company is on the verge of going public. After Angela gets access to other recordings by the woman whose troubling audio file she received, we get glimpses of that woman’s life and possible death (she’s played by Erika Christensen). So many details about Angela’s life are also fascinating, from specific things like the fact that she’s suffering from an abscessed tooth (her dentist, whom she only meets with virtually, is played by David Wain) to broader personality traits, including that her father was in construction, which makes her crafty and able to fix or build almost anything. Naturally, all of these details factor into the storytelling in a variety of often clever ways.

Kravitz is wonderfully focused as a woman who has clearly dealt before with people who don’t listen or believe her (there’s a brief mention of her having been assaulted in the past, but the film doesn’t dwell on that part of her story). She’s skittish around most people and may come across as abrasive to some (including the guy she’s sometimes having sex with who clearly wants to get to know her better). But she’s earned her distrust of people and makes no apologies for it, even to her mother (Robin Givens). So when actual villains enter Angela’s life (in the form of a particularly nasty fixer named Yuri, played by Beka Sikharulidze), sent to keep her from revealing anything else about these recordings, we suspect she’ll be able to handle herself, even if she isn’t quite sure who these people are and why they want to harm her.

Kimi may not feel like a work worthy of Soderbergh’s talents, and it may not rank among his finest works, but it’s still a solid adrenaline boost to the neck and a great reminder that as an actor and action star, Kravitz’s potential has barely been tapped. More now than ever, I’m particularly excited to see what she brings to The Batman in a few weeks.

The film is now streaming on HBO Max.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Gr2zXuEBL0

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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