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‘Kimi’ review: HBO Max thriller from Soderbergh, Kravitz

Key art to “Kimi,” Steven Soderbergh’s nifty new micro-thriller, features a sullen-faced, blue-haired young woman in an orange hoodie. You could reasonably conclude that it is Kimi, but no, her name is actually Angela. She works for the tech company that created Kimi, a high-tech virtual assistant who responds to all her customers’ requests with bright magenta light and a reassuring “I’m here.” Like Siri or Alexa, but with more sophisticated (read: pervasive) learning capabilities, Kimi will dim your lights, play your music, and even fire up HBO Max, where you’ll find this latest fictional dispatch from a world under self-policing. enforced 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Soderbergh immerses us in this world with a casualness that is unnerving precisely because it is not unnerving; this is how we live now, he and screenwriter David Koepp suggest, with a pandemic outside our windows and the world at our fingertips. Most of “Kimi” takes place in the spacious Seattle loft that Angela calls home, though we soon see that it’s also become her gym, workspace, and permanent haven.

Like the heroine of last year’s “Woman at the Window” and many locked-up protagonists before her, Angela (played by Zoë Kravitz) has agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder she says she had under control until COVID-19. now she’s content to never leave her apartment almost entirely run by Kimi, outsourcing menial tasks to an inanimate hub that logs every data point and keeps her under digital surveillance 24/7.

Soderbergh and Koepp understand that in a world of Alexas and iPhones, Angela’s condition — tech addiction, not agoraphobia — is near universal. But in this case, in a sly nod to “The Conversation,” the guard does a bit of her own surveillance, too. As a voice stream interpreter, Angela spends her days listening to audio clips of customers whose requests Kimi hasn’t understood, then writing the code that will fix the error, making Kimi a smarter, more user-friendly service. . It’s tedious work, but Angela is not afraid of boredom. Granted, it’s best when she clicks on an audio stream and assumes, from the sounds of a woman’s terrified screams, that Kimi has recorded evidence of a violent crime in progress.

Angela, stirred by empathy and maybe something more, tries to share her findings with the company – then, when asked to ignore the question, decides to do her own research. At this point, we are completely absorbed; Angela is a computer expert and a shrewd detective, and her investigation – with a little extra computer support from a Romanian colleague (an amusing Alex Dobrenko) – exerts its own insidious grip. Soderbergh, who films and edits under his usual aliases (Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard, respectively), has a knack for satirizing corporate mundaneness and making everyday minutia fascinating. It can turn tapping fingers and flashing cursors into gripping drama.

For memory :

1:22 p.m. February 10, 2022An earlier version of this review incorrectly attributed the score to Randy Miller. Cliff Martinez composed the score; Miller conducted and orchestrated.

He also uses, and this is not the first time, contemporary technology to riff great crime films from an earlier era. The faces of Angela’s neighbors across the street (including Byron Bowers and Devin Ratray) raise the inevitable specter of the “back window”. (Cliff Martinez’s score heightens the Hitchcock vibes with rich Bernard Herrmann-esque lushness.) But as Angela’s investigation takes her deeper into the weeds – bringing her into contact with a senior executive ( a terrific Rita Wilson) whose warm smile offers the opposite of solace — “Kimi” begins to take on the paranoid thriller contours of Alan J. Pakula’s 1974 classic, “The Parallax View.” Those who have followed Soderbergh’s recent work may also recall the deadly corporate conspiracy in last year’s “No Sudden Move,” set in the automotive industry of the 1950s. Times and technologies can change, but the banality of capitalist evil never changes.

Zoë Kravitz in the movie “Kimi”.

(Warner Bros.)

It’s depressing to contemplate, but Soderbergh, an inveterate artist even (especially) at his most cynical, also makes it fun to watch. Much of the fun of “Kimi,” which packs a lot of information and ideas into a quick 89 minutes, comes from the way it repurposes an old-school genre template with up-to-the-minute materials. You may laugh a little as Koepp plants his narrative seeds at the start – a rotten tooth, an upstairs construction job, a downtown protest newscast – knowing full well that in the end, they will materialize. And the role that Kimi himself plays in the proceedings – hero, villain or accomplice? — suggests a healthy ambivalence on Soderbergh’s part about the good and bad of technology’s pervasive reach into our 21st century lives.

But “Kimi”, the movie, just like Kimi the virtual assistant, needs human intelligence to do its job effectively. And it does more than find that intelligence in Kravitz, who makes for an extremely likeable protagonist, in part because of his indifference to appearing likeable. Angela’s fear of the outdoors wins your sympathy, and her diligence and resourcefulness arouse your admiration. But she can also be impatient and rude, subjecting friends, potential lovers, and family members (Robin Givens FaceTimes as Angela’s mother) to her dry demands and quick temper. Some of this may be relevant to the character; some of them can be recognized as mid-pandemic irritability, chronic illness, and general social malaise as contagious as COVID-19 itself.

That’s why it’s both heartbreaking and oddly moving when Angela, spurred on by awareness and empathy for a victimized woman she’ll never meet, finally finds the courage to leave the apartment and move on. ‘action. Her anxiety is overwhelming at first, and as “Kimi” shifts into chase-thriller mode, her bright blue hair, among other things, makes her a hot target. Soderbergh himself stalks Angela with every formal resource at his disposal, using harsh lighting, angled angles, and loud city noises to put his disorientation into nervous visual and auditory terms. But it also shows us, gradually at first, then with accelerated lens, a world of friendly faces — some masked, some not — that may well begin to shake its pandemic limbo.

In these moments, “Kimi” becomes something of a cautionary tale for the COVID-cautious: the world, he suggests, might be a big and scary place, but it’s a world we, like Angela, have to deal with. reconnect us to our times. After all, it may not be a more perilous place than our own digitally booby-trapped homes and offices, as the film makes clear with an unduly satisfying finale and perhaps its most devious reference: when someone watches or always listen, you’re never truly home alone.

‘Who’

Rating: R, for violence, language and brief sexuality/nudity

Playing: HBO Max, starting February 10

Operating time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

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