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Kimi movie review: Steven Soderbergh’s slick paranoid thriller has a way of sneaking up on you

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Kimi movie review: Steven Soderbergh's HBO Max era is shaping up to be one of the most phenomenal filmmaking runs in post-streaming American cinema.

Zoë Kravitz in a still from Steven Soderbergh's Kimi. (Photo: HBO Max)

A Hitchcockian thriller about an agoraphobic data analyst who witnesses a murder, director Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi is like Rear Window meets North by Northwest, but for the post-truth age.

Zoë Kravitz stars as Angela Childs, an employee of a shadowy corporation called Amygdala. Her job is to listen to recordings of user interactions with a Siri-like AI personal assistant called Kimi, and identify glitches in the system that need to be resolved. So, for instance, if a user asks for a particular Taylor Swift song to be played and Kimi is unable to comprehend the request, it’s Angela’s job to retool the code that would enable Kimi to identify the song correctly. You know how, when you call customer service and they inform you that the call might be recorded for internal quality checks? Well, Angela is the person who listens to those conversations.

She stays by herself in a spectacular Seattle studio apartment, in what seems like the present day, which means she’s lived through at least two Covid-induced lockdowns. And they’ve affected her mental health. A sexual assault survivor, Angela’s condition was exacerbated by the pandemic, leaving her in a position where she’s unable to get out of her house at all. She mostly minds her own business, but isn’t averse to flirting with a man across the street—a prosecutor named Terry—with whom she has developed a casual romantic relationship.

In some deftly-written character work, Angela scolds Terry for not asking to be buzzed into her building before one of their casual hook-ups. And after they’re done, Angela’s immediate reaction is to change the sheets, while Terry is still hanging around and wondering out loud if she’d be interested in going out on an actual date. She wouldn’t. Angela briskly asks the visibly hurt Terry to leave, using piled up work as her excuse to avoid intimacy.

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She logs in, her Audio-Technica headphones cancelling out all the noise around her, both literal and otherwise. But after resolving some routine problems, Angela comes across a Kimi recording that will send her down a dark alleyway of deceit and corruption. She hears what she believes is a sexual assault, and after digging around a little more, discovers that the perpetrator subsequently had the victim murdered. She immediately escalates the matter to her superiors, who summon her to the Amygdala offices, where they assure her that the FBI will be present. She plucks up the courage and leaves her house, but little does Angela know that the man she’d inadvertently heard committing the crime has ties to Amygdala. And with an IPO around the corner, the last thing that the company wants is a national scandal.

Shot by Soderbergh himself in a trademark style that is somehow both unfussy and flamboyant, Kimi is a cracking 90-minute paranoid thriller that perfectly captures the unpredictable intensity of pandemic life. After a workmanlike first act that is restricted to Angela’s home—this is, after all, where she is most comfortable—Soderbergh films her outdoor escapades almost entirely in handheld Dutch angles, his jittery digital camera mirroring Angela’s inner nervousness. She understands, over an afternoon, just how powerful the people that she’s decided to blow the whistle on can be.

Aided by writer David Koepp’s lean script, Soderbergh doesn’t pull any punches as he name-checks Amazon, Apple and Facebook in the movie, which is effectively his takedown of tech corporations and their well-documented malpractices. The satire in the film’s second half, when Angela finds that her every move can be predicted by Amygdala based on her digital footprint, is sharp and surprisingly funny. There’s a wickedly insightful bit in which Amygdala hires the services of a random Russian dude to track Angela’s movements around Seattle, and Soderbergh keeps cutting to the man’s mother, who is knitting something on a couch in the same room as him.


Slickly made, crisply paced, and minimalist to the point of being experimental, Kimi marks a hattrick of knockout films that Soderbergh–Let Them All Talk and No Sudden Move are the other two–has made for HBO Max in the last three years. And somehow, each of them has slipped under the radar. Funding the kind of mid-budget adult dramas that nobody seems to be making these days is a noble enterprise, but the streamer better get its act together and tell the world that these movies exist. Otherwise, who knows, Soderbergh might set his sights on HBO Max next.

Director – Steven Soderbergh
Cast – Zoë Kravitz, Rita Wilson, Byron Bowers, Devin Ratray
Rating – 4.5/5

First published on: 15-02-2022 at 04:00:30 pm
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