KIMI tells the incompressible existence of Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz), a tech employee living in Seattle whose function is to listen to user feedback deemed inconclusive by Kimi, an intelligent personal assistant similar to Alexa. During one of these wiretaps, the young woman who is also agoraphobic following an assault (which the COVID pandemic has not helped) realizes that she is undoubtedly a witness to a murder. She then decides, against all odds, to report the potential crime.
With such a pitch signed by the great David Koepp (Jurassic Park, L'impasse), KIMI could not be other than a very well referenced work. Angela's character is fond of voyeurism from her window (her agoraphobia prevents her from going out, as James Stewart's broken leg forced her character to wait outside her window in Alfred Hitchcock's classic Backyard Window), and her job forces her to listen without intervening Kimi users, a situation that changes when she thinks she has proof of a murder (like Harry Caul, the private detective of Secret Conversation).
When there's no more hot chocolate in the office
The main characteristic of KIMI is above all its simple structure which goes straight to the point thanks to a very refined scenario. Thus, the film lasts less than 90 minutes, and is composed of three immediately identifiable acts, namely an investigation (is the murder real or a new consequence of the young woman's psychic disorders?), a chase and a sequence of break-in between Mom I missed the plane and Panic Room. These acts are linked together with fluidity and if the tone of the film changes regularly with these tilts of the genre, the whole remains homogeneous.
The film also enjoys an effective rhythm, which gains in intensity as Angela's investigation progresses (and the consequences). Steven Soderbergh thus manages to concentrate influences and genres without difficulty in record time, in a story as versatile as its main actress.
Angela's exit from her home, filmed in a rollercoaster
The woman who loved no one
With a very tight staging around the latter, KIMI thus manages to characterize her brilliantly in a role reminiscent of Lisbeth Salander, a character from Millénium: The Men Who Didn't Love Women played by Rooney Mara (with whom Steven Soderbergh collaborated in Side Effects).
Taciturn, austere, frankly unpleasant and limiting her interactions to a functional character (whether it be sex, dental care or even emotional support), the character of Angela manages to embody the best and the worst of what technology brings us comfort, but also isolation.
In addition, KIMI manages to display the realism that we had acclaimed in Mr. Robot about the computer tool, far from people typing on keyboards and flashing diodes (with the exception of a few passages where to draw someone's position has never seemed so easy). The technological question is not the only one to be at least mentioned, since the pandemic, confinement or even the post-MeToo era are also (brief) subjects of reflection within the film.
The whole staging revolves around Angela's psyche, whose large loft is filmed in wide shots, sometimes fixed, letting us consider it as a space of comfort and security for the young woman. On the contrary, during Angela's incursions outside her apartment, she sometimes finds herself in the corner of the frame, filmed at an angle, often from behind, or even from low angle (all these effects being sometimes superimposed or succeeding each other to constitute an impression of instability and unease in the spectator).
Similarly, when she listens to the recordings of Kimi users, the ambient sound suddenly disappears, reminiscent of the device that we appreciated in Black Box and here cheerfully pastiche Brian De Palma's Blow Out (another obvious reference). And if KIMI lives or dies by her actress, it's a successful bet for Steven Soderbergh, Zoë Kravitz offering an excellent performance. It is also she who proposed the blue wig for the character of Angela, a Scott Pilgrimesque detail that we never tire of.
Rita Wilson, falsely understanding face of a tech company
Alone against the world
Sadly, the film also dies by its failure to offer relevant development or character to anyone who gravitates around its heroine. Whether it's her lover, her mother, her mysterious neighbor, or even the evil tech company she works for, no character (among the slim handful of other protagonists present on screen) benefits from even the beginning of a design. Almost all of them are functions placed in full view of the spectator, who will quickly defuse elements of the plot by their very (too) functional presence.
Functional is the term that perhaps best defines KIMI, in its clarity as well as its absence of flesh. If the film allows itself references to classic spy films or behind closed doors, it lacks its own identity, but also a depth of reflection as to the themes it addresses. Yes, technology is as much a tool for our comfort as a seed of alienation planted by evil companies, but that, KIMI did not invent it, and this speech is now (very) agreed.
At this level, it's even more a secondary character
The questions about confinement, the Covid, or even the young woman's agoraphobia are finally reduced to fixing the conditions of existence of the story rather than becoming organic matter that would benefit from being shaped. Agoraphobia, for example, makes it possible above all to transform the camera into a paranoid narrative. The sexual assault experienced by the young woman does not forge a militant statement yet welcome in the film, but helps to explain Angela's pugnacity to continue her investigation despite the pressures.
The result is an impression of watching a B-movie with a convincing direction, but unable to develop an elaborate reflection, nor is it able to offer a relevant ending to its plot and to the height of its stakes, until curling the incoherence concerning its heart: the character of Angela. The film enjoys an end whose lack of likelihood (and this is not a criticism of its burlesque character, but of its conclusion) comes to weaken the whole, as was the case recently for Edgar Wright's Last Night in Soho, for example.
Atmosphere window on courtyard and voyeurism
Finally, is KIMI more than an exercise in style for Steven Soderbergh? With a fleshy structure and a characterization reduced to the extreme, the film looks like the will of its director (who, for once, also takes on the roles of editor and cinematographer under pseudonyms referring to his parents) to embark on a solo race, almost a sporting event.
Fortunately, the director has not lost his hand, and his harmonious realization allows the whole to unfold in a nervous way without having time to bore or be questioned by the spectator. Like a dish in a gourmet restaurant, KIMI left us a little unsatisfied, despite the scrupulous work of chef Steven Soderbergh around a single ingredient, the exceptional Zoë Kravitz.