Steven Soderbergh playfully deals with a demanding sense of routine in Kimi, available to stream now on HBO Max, imbuing it in a way that feels overwhelming in the most familiar or straightforward way. As the prolific director (and editor and cinematographer, as usual) of this first trio of oceans movies, Lucky Loganand last year’s made in Detroit No sudden movementSoderbergh knows quite a bit about control.
Heists and thrillers are Soderbergh’s longtime specialty: tools he arms to examine the workings and vulnerabilities of institutional power structures. (The difference between the two genres, primarily, is who – the individual or the structural force – is on the attack.) Here he returns with another thriller, following a young woman named Angela (Zoë Kravitz) employed remotely by the Amygdala Corporation, which manufactures a product called Kimi. As the creators of a surveillance system a la Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and other spirited digital matrones, Amygdala is pushing a questionable but increasingly standard market: if users consent, often without their knowledge, to the suspension of their privacy, they can receive a range of services from their homes.
While combing through the tapes to optimize Kimi’s responsiveness to her job, Angela stumbles upon probable evidence of a crime and immediately seeks to report it to her supervisors to prevent further damage. However, Angela is agoraphobic and additionally experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. She is anxious, somewhat traumatized, cringes, and has more than a few compulsive habits. She lives cooped up in her tidy Seattle loft, where she exercises, attends therapy, works, and occasionally hosts men — or maybe just one man. When talking with other people (mostly online), the conversations are influenced by firm, sometimes harsh, affirmations of verbal and personal boundaries. Soderbergh seems to relate to this rigidity and firmness of purpose, which seems even more justifiable now than usual; a pandemic seems like the best time to think seriously about who and what we are letting into our lives.
Angela’s employers at Amygdala Corp. fingers crossed that most won’t read the fine print in their terms of service, presenting their army of workers as their defining trait (“People: it’s our people and our level of excellence that sets us apart,” opines one slimy executive.) Amygdala isn’t entirely wrong to be defined by its staff, though they’re perhaps less the exception than the rule. KimiThe view of technology is therefore less conventionally alarmist than justly suspicious – not so much of the new tools themselves as of the people and entities behind them. By redeploying all the biases of their creators—the gently misogynistic paternalism of their naming schemes, the more muscular and unapologetic forays into privacy, or the palliative faux pas dished out by middle managers—technologies Kimi the depictions are exactly as repulsive as the people behind them, even if its inciting incident hints at their potential for good.
The configuration of the film is not original in this, and does not pretend to be. Part of a line of paranoid works including Explode (1966), The conversation (1974), and To extinguish (1981) – all trailing behind Hithcock and featuring artists and media technicians accidentally stumbling upon probable crimes – the ironies Kimi toys with are as old as the recorded image. As a surveillance technician who is a self-questioning cog in a larger system, Angela’s work is not as individually troubling as Gene Hackman’s equally isolated figure was. The conversation – but it is part of Kimiglimpse of modern life. Tracking the increasingly systematized, segmented, and largely outsourced work systems that drive an increasingly technology-centric global economy, the role that individual actors play is both integral and infinitesimal, with questions of responsibility, which must belong somewhere, peering down like nothing more than a flickering mirage.
As someone sensitized to abuse as more than a momentary headache in the workplace, Angela is an exception to what her employers demand in a world of work alienated to the max, not just to assume any form of social responsibility, but also to house all humanistic principles. By setting clear boundaries, refusing to make charitable assumptions, and approaching those around her with a defiant and questioning attitude, Angela is bound to do more than any of us would like.
But as sympathetic as Soderbergh is to this sense of tightly guarded control – seeing so much paranoia as merely observant, mundane and righteous – choosing what to keep out of one’s life remains inseparable from choosing what to leave behind. enter. By working in an unusually lean mode and allowing Angela the dignity of stubborn imperfections, Soderbergh – with the help of perennial composer Cliff Martinez, screenwriter David Koepp and, of course, Kravitz – manages to avoid self-seriousness or a easy valuation of his lead. Instead, he and his collaborators provide an unfussy way of understanding.
Though it follows in Angela’s blunt, professional footsteps in its air of professional brevity and directness, the film remains light on its feet, playfully working with technique. With itinerant, often dramatically angled camerawork and sharp linear editing fueled by a varied, at times neoclassical score, KimiIt’s a small enough production to focus on getting everything right. In its concentrated tension – between the film’s brutal and rapid narrative movements and the acting forms interwoven into its form – Soderbergh manages to get closer than usual to the psychology of its main character, reaching into the inner life of its role. main. In this, he offers more than an orderly allegory about the unseen moral and bureaucratic labyrinths of modern life, examining the much messier struggles to venture out and open up. By combining these themes, we touch on the very nature of security as a tense field of negotiation between public and private, and by caring about who and what to trust, we engage in the task even more heavy to decide which materials to build. a life from which, hoping to carve out an existence worth protecting. The fact that a little thriller as fast and enjoyable as Kimi can get it all worth it.