Soderbergh’s tidy ‘Kimi’ borrows something old to make something new

Zoë Kravitz stars in 'Kimi.'
Zoë Kravitz stars in 'Kimi.'

It is high time to discuss Steven Soderbergh’s rank among the greatest American directors, certainly the most prolific. His most popular fare include “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Out of Sight,” the “Ocean’s” series, and the Oscar-winning “Traffic.” But his oeuvre is littered with lesser-known finely crafted films like “The Good German,” “The Informant!,” the wildly underrated “Haywire,” “Logan Lucky,” last year’s HBO crime production “No Sudden Move,” and many more.

In a pandemic era filled with delayed movie projects and faltering theater audiences, Soderbergh produces his third film in the last two years with “Kimi,” a David Koepp-scripted thriller that borrows broad strokes from Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out” plus Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and “Rear Window.” At 89 minutes, it is a tidy, utterly entertaining bit of cinema that imports a tried-and-true formula into our current zeitgeist.

Rising star Zoë Kravitz puts on a nearly one-woman show as Angela Childs, a Seattle denizen suffering from crippling agoraphobia spawned by a past assault and exacerbated by the isolation anxiety of COVID-19. Her main human contact is a romantic partner Terry (Byron Bowers), who lives in an adjoining building and Angela spied through their respective picture windows during the pandemic. Angela is comfortable inviting Terry over for late-night hookups but petrified to even meet him for lunch downstairs at a sidewalk food truck.

Angela works from home as a human monitor for an Alexa-style smart speaker system named Kimi, listening to hundreds of error-tagged audio clips to improve the AI’s search algorithm performance. When Angela hears a recording of what sounds like a murder, it sets into motion her mission to identify both the victim and the assailant, an obsessive odyssey that reaches into the upper echelons of Kimi’s corporate progenitor, named Amygdala.

Soderbergh employs skillful filmmaking to parlay Angela’s anxiety into amplified tension for the viewer. The effort for Angela to simply unlock her apartment’s deadbolt or walk down a city street are made to feel like Herculean labors. A suffocating sense of dread hangs over Angela just visiting an Amygdala executive (Rita Wilson) to report her discovery. Indeed, it is only when Angela ultimately returns to her home confines that she is able to transform from prey into avenger.

With Kravitz’s formidable assistance, Soderbergh deftly elevates an otherwise spartan storyline into a clever narrative that keenly incorporates our contemporary technological, scientific and cultural milieu. “Kimi” is both modest and immensely satisfying, another taut offering from one of our finest filmmakers.