“Kimi”, Stephen Soderbergh’s latest, from a script by David Koepp, packs a lot of story into its hour-and-a-half. Zoe Kravitz is Angela, a work-at-home analyst for a tech company with “Kimi”, a siri-like voice command. Her job is to monitor the recordings for Kimi’s false readings, and adjust the app accordingly. Well, the company gets its money’s worth because Angela is a voluntary shut-in who never leaves her Seattle loft, and only takes carefully-measured breaks for meals, rigorous exercise, almost maniacal grooming and, oh yes, occasional sex visits from her neighbor, Terry, a trial lawyer. They communicate by text or gesture, as his window faces hers.
In a cryptic opening of an interview with the company founder, a nerdy at-home dad, we learn that the company is days away from a blockbuster IPO, but, in a private call, he hears there’s a problem. His face darkens. Then, suddenly, we are introduced to Angela and inundated with the details of her shut-in life until the real story begins: Angela discovers a segment in her review that might, just might, reveal the actual murder of a woman over a Kimi call.
The basic situation is just another variation of Antonioni’s “Blow Up”: a mysterious “crime” is revealed to a media professional who has no clue who the killer or the victim are. The suspense comes, at first, in the hero’s efforts to verify if what seems to have happened is real, or just an illusion. In this genre, of course, the crime is always real, and the story depends on what happens to the bad guys (the victims are rarely important here). The formula then goes in one of two ways. The bad guys are foiled by the hero, or the hero fails, and evil triumphs.
Some pretty decent entertainment has come out of the formula – most notably Coppola’s “The Conversation” – but, for me, the Antonioni original has the edge. It’s a personal thing. Lubricious cynicism is just more interesting than the triumph of virtue. But, as Soderbergh has shown throughout his career, it’s more fun to make the bad guys look so stupid that even a “flawed” Clooney-smirking hero comes out on top. I haven’t seen a number of Soderbergh’s output, but only 2000’s “Traffic” stands out as posing a real challenge to the audience’s comfort.
But, having taken the tried-and-true safe route, “Kimi” delivers the goods. The camera never dawdles, whether bouncing along Angela’s loft or skillfully mirroring her confusion in the outside world. The cuts are uncannily timed to the just-so moment of discovery. What’s more, Soderbergh plays his ace beautifully.
Here, that ace card is Zoe Kravitz. It seems that director and star were totally committed to avoid making her a superhero. Whether because of her abused past, or a core of self-doubt, Angela always seems to hold herself back from letting her instincts take over. But once challenged, she steels up and attacks with lightening speed and faultless judgment. Th calculation is never hidden – it couldn’t be – yet she makes Angela a fully-realized human. More so, certainly, because no other character in the film is anything other than one-dimensional.