Steven Soderbergh’s latest film “Kimi” is as taut and efficient as you can possibly expect from him. As usual, he made it with a relatively modest amount of production budget, but it is another distinctive work of his to be admired for the skillful handling of mood and narrative, and I was surprised to find myself more engaged than expected even though I could clearly discern what it was going to do right from the very beginning.
After the prologue scene which gives us some background information on what its story is about, the movie focuses on the daily life of a young female technician named Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz). Due to some bad incident in the past, she has struggled with anxiety and agoraphobia, and her psychological condition has been considerably worsened due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At least, she can do her work at her apartment, but that is not so easy at times due to the frequent noises from the apartment right above her residence, which happens to be going through a remodeling period.
Her employer is a promising technology company which has been getting lots of attention in public thanks to its smart speaker product named “Kimi”. Angela’s main job is handling numerous verbal communication errors between Kimi devices and their buyers, and we watch how she monitors and then solves one case after another for the more accurate verbal communication between Kimi devices and their buyers.
Because the audio data streams delivered from millions of Kimi devices out there are usually full of mundane stuffs ranging from paper towel to a certain song by Taylor Swift, Angela does not pay much attention to her latest case at first, but then her ears come to sense something odd. Although loud music is played in the background, she confirms that there is really something wrong in what she has just heard, and what follows next is a neat variation of that famous audio manipulation scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” (1974). As she focuses more and more on that disturbing sound in question, she is convinced that some unknown woman was seriously assaulted as accidentally recorded by her Kimi device, and she comes to feel that she must do anything about that right now.
However, Angela soon finds herself facing a number of obstacles in front of her. Because of her current psychological problems, she is not so willing to go outside, and she does not even want to go to her dentist even though she is advised that she must go to her dentist considering her increasingly serious dental problem. She actually has been sexually involved with a young dude who happens to be a prosecutor, but, alas, he is currently unavailable due to his busy schedule. When she reports what she discovered to her supervisor, his supervisor is not so amused because he does not want to get the company into any possible legal trouble. After all, as shown from the prologue scene, the company is about to have a very important moment which will bring much more money to the company, and its CEO has been quite occupied with maintaining its promising appearance as much as possible.
Nevertheless, Angela becomes more determined to get to the bottom of the situation, and the screenplay by David Koepp gradually builds up tension around her. Thanks to a friendly co-worker of hers, she can access more to whatever was recently recorded from that Kimi device in question, and what she comes to uncover is not so pleasant at all. There is indeed a conspiracy, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Angela consequently finds herself in a big danger as she attempts to report this to anyone who might help her.
As the mood becomes more urgent and desperate along the story, Soderbergh, who also edited and shot the movie for himself under pseudonyms as before, accentuates the heroine’s growing anxiety and paranoia via a number of nice technical touches including deliberately tilted camera angles. As our heroine desperately tries to evade the figures apparently chasing after her, the movie provides us several tense scenes including the one unfolded around a big public demonstration, and the level of suspense on the screen is steadily maintained by the effective score by Cliff Martinez
In the end, everything in the story predictably culminates to a climactic scene where our heroine must be more active for her survival, but Soderbergh and Koepp still have some good surprises for us. At one certain point, our heroine cleverly uses her Kimi device for her considerable advantage, and that actually made me consider buying a smart speaker just in case, though I still do think smart speakers are still not good enough for recognizing my mumbling speech pattern.
As the center of the movie, Zoë Kravitz, who appeared in a number of notable recent films including “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), ably carries the film as giving what may be the best performance in her growing acting career. Never exaggerating her character’s vulnerable aspects, she also brings enough pluck and intelligence to her character, and that is the main reason why we come to brace ourselves for what is being at stake for her character during the climactic scene.
On the whole, “Kimi” is an enjoyable genre piece to be savored for its slick efficiency as well as Kravitz’ solid lead performance, and Soderbergh delivers another small but commendable achievement here. Although he may never reach again to the level of that huge critical/commercial success of “Erin Brokovich” (2000) and “Traffic” (2000), he has been quite steady and consistent during last 20 years, and that is pretty admirable to say the least, you know.