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Soderbergh’s artistry is, at this point, all compulsion. His restless need to create is perfect, business-wise, for the age of “content,” less so if one hopes for more — for a resonant point-of-view; for a genuine sense of perspective; for a reverberant ethos in motion. Kimi is, of course, animated by the NOW, its paranoiac cheap-thrillery foregrounded against the Covid-19 pandemic and the more general challenges of living under the unholy kleptocratic trinity of Bezos-Musk-Thiel. In a world in which agoraphobic tech worker Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz) can’t make it to the taco truck across the street, what hope does she have to expose the murder she overhears while doing some targeted-ad surveillance for a Seattle conglomerate specializing in the eponymous Amazon Echo-like devices? This being the movies, even in streaming-only form, as well as a script by David Koepp (one of our more adept hacks), there's plenty of reason for it’ll-all-work-out-in-the-end optimism.
Angela must still run a gauntlet, initially within her own sprawlingly claustrophobic loft apartment, which Soderbergh, acting again as his own DP, shoots with plenty of visual panache. There’s some Rear Window-esque spying on neighbors, though the bulk of this single-locale first section is Conversation-lite, with Angela piecing together a muddled recording of the demise of special guest victim Erika Christensen, as shamelessly abused here as she was in Soderbergh’s dodgy drug epic Traffic. Soderbergh cares more about tech advances than human interests, which is why Angela’s noise-cancelling headphones, and the never-gets-old shock of their ambience nullification, get the true star spotlight (sort of like the iPhone-generated blue tint over the climactic sequence of Unsane upstaged everything and everyone else in frame).
Things improve when Angela finally leaves her gilded cage since the canted-angle hi-res camerawork complements Kravitz’s tautly distressed body language; she’s like a SIM salmon swimming up a torrential digi-stream. The main antagonists, however, are the kind of generic Euro-trash villains you’d expect from a Koepp-and-his-ilk script of the ’90s. (That decade and its pop-cultural refuse sure are having a moment.) That these thick-accented baddies work for Tom Hanks’s wife, who hilariously sports an Indian surname, and have the tables turned on them in large part because of the eldest son from Home Alone entertained me about as much as the stunt casting of Mike Tyson ex Robin Givens as Angela’s incessantly FaceTiming mother. Snort of recognition. Move on.
The contemporary trappings are about as shallow, with every of-the-moment plus (Angela snatched into a black van from amid a group of protestors) undone by the sense that Soderbergh and his collaborators really should have gone brazenly further. (An anti-gentrification rally, guys? Go BLM/George Floyd or pack it in.) Soderbergh has it within him to risk offense (and to genuinely cause it), though his recent output feels safe in ways that suggest he’s hedging his bets, giving us some genuinely arresting sights and sounds that no other filmmaker could conjure while still trying to please all amorphous parties.