Sunday, February 13, 2022

Kimi is a superb technological thriller

It'd be great under any circumstances that Steven Soderbergh, the man behind so many exceptional films, came back from retirement. But it's especially great given how his post-retirment output has been uniformly strong, save for The Laundromat, a weird attempt on Soderbergh's attempt to mimic Adam McKay. This hot streak continues on with aplomb with Kimi, a low-key thriller that shifts between intimate and gleefully fun modes with remarkable skill. The biggest complaint I have with the whole production is that this should've gone to theaters! How come The King's Man got the big screen treatment but not this treat?

Like so many of us in the last two years, Kimi protagonist Angela Childs (Zoe Kravits) works from home. Her job concerns an Alexa-like device called Kimi, with Childs working manually to help fix any miscommunication between this piece of technology and consumers. Listening to so many people's Kimi request is usually a snooze...but then Childs hears something disturbing. A woman getting murdered. But by who? And where? She begins to dig deeper, but finds herself in trouble. Not only is her company uninterested in Childs pursuing this any further, but somebody is hot on her trail and looking to silence her before she can find the answers.

David Koepp doesn't have a spotless track record with thrillers, but when he delivers the goods, he can make something that keeps you glued to the screen and satisfied. Kimi is like a polished version of his 2012 feature Premium Rush, a restrained entry in the thriller genre following a singular protagonist being pursued by relentless embodiments of the privileged class. That film could get a little sidetracked in its non-lienar plot structure, whereas Koepp keeps things cleaner and simpler for Kimi. This allows the focus of the story to remain firmly focused on Angela Childs and her plight. Koepp's streamlined approach really allows the tension of the story to crackle, there's a lack of pointless digressions, not to mention a short and sweet 89 minute runtime, that keeps things consistently intense.

Steven Soderbergh's direction and Peter Andrews' cinematography share the focused nature of Koepp's screenplay. These two are in especially rare form, as they constantly find great ways of visually reinforcing the anxiety that grips Childs when she goes outside. Disorienting lenses, tilted camera angles, and appropriately stomach-churning shades of yellow dominate the frame once Childs ventures beyond her apartment. Their work here in realizing how Childs is always looking over her shoulder evokes 1970s political thrillers, but cinema of the past is merely used as a springboard for something new and exciting. Keeping this story so small-scale hasn't curbed the imagination of these artists, it's only exacerbated their most imaginative impulses.

Sequences of Childs on the run also make heavy use of an original score by Cliff Martinez, reuniting with Soderbergh for the first time since the 2011 film Contagion. It's a welcome reunion since Martinez does outstanding work here. In a wonderful twist, Martinez incorporates several techno-sounding flourishes into his pieces, but also heavily leans on flutes and wind instruments that often make Kimi sound like a movie straight out of the 1960s. It's a wonderfully unique harmonious mixture that conveys so much personality that it's no wonder the movie often forgoes dialogue. Martinez's score has no problem picking up the slack and capturing the interior worlds of these characters. 

All these great writing, filmmaking, and musical touches and Kimi still has the good sense to deliver both a standout Zoe Kravitz lead performance and a great scene where protestors intervene in a potential kidnapping scenario. Kimi's obviously not perfect or a life-changing movie, but boy is it ever a fun and thoughtful thriller. It's the kind of feature that can delicately balance thoughtful, not exploitative, depictions of coping with long-term psychological trauma while also delivering a rousing climactic showdown between good and evil involving a nailgun. Any movie that can deliver both of  those ingredients is A-OK in my book, especially when it's executed through the lens of Steven Soderbergh.

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