Character Angela looks nervously at computer screen

An old feature renewed with the new year. Please join me in welcoming Trent Crofts to the Empire as we talk about the tech thriller Kimi (2022, HBO Max).



For this feature, my usual structure is that one of the two people in the discussion has already seen the project and the other one is going in cold, such as with Mission: Impossible: Fallout. However, I liked Trent’s idea of talking about a new, buzzy movie/series to see how our experiences compare to the consensus. We talked about movies like Encanto (2021), Nightmare Alley (2021), even the classic screwball comedy Overboard (1987), before settling on the recently released Kimi. We are both going in cold after a few weeks of positive reviews from friends and critics.


Question 1: Had you heard about this movie before it was released? 

(MR = Matt Rob; TC = Trent Crofts)


MR:  So what is your knowledge of Kimi? Had you heard of the movie before it was released?  

TC: I don’t remember hearing much about the movie. I believe I remember seeing the thumbnail for it and being intrigued by the blue hair and the name. The name especially intrigues me because it sounds so playful, but doesn’t line up with the mood.

MR:  The name does seem incongruous with other movies in this vein: Snake Eyes, Blow-up, The Parallax View, etc. I am a pretty rabid Soderbergh fan and I didn’t even know he was working on this movie until I saw a review of it. He works so fast, I can’t keep up.  


Question 2: What do you know about Steven Soderbergh (director, cinematographer, editor) and David Koepp (writer)?

TC: What a beautiful segue because I don’t know anything about Steven Soderbergh (or Sodabread, as I hear it in my head). I took a few minutes to look up what else he had directed and was surprised to see how many films he’s worked on. And then bam! There it was, LOGAN LUCKY, one of my favorite movies from the past few years. 

MR:  I love Logan Lucky too! Just a perfect heist film. And that’s so wild because he’s already done multiple excellent heist films before it (Oceans 11,12,13, Out of Sight), and yet I still like Logan Lucky more. Soderbergh is a really interesting filmmaker because he shoots his own movies under a pseudonym (Peter Andrews) and edits them (as Mary Ann Bernard), so he works at a crazy pace. 

TC: I was impressed to see both the Oceans series and Logan Lucky in his catalogue. Ocean’s is so sleek and cool, but Lucky has so much heart to it. Do you know why he uses a pseudonym? 

MR: It is directors guild rules, I think. A studio movie can’t have a cinematographer and director be the same credited person. (It is a little more complex than that. –Ed.) This is also why the Coens edit their movies under the name Roderick Jaynes, and John Carpenter likes his various fake names like John T Chance. FWIW, I think the secret weapon for Logan Lucky is the daughter, who is wonderful, and Daniel Craig, who I felt was Oscar-worthy. Such a funny, bananas performance.  

TC: Yes. It’s a more wholesome Bonnie and Clyde.

MR:  lol.  

TC: I didn’t know about that guild rule. I guess all of his movies are inherently covert operations in a way. 

MR:  Soderbergh shot High Flying Bird WITH AN iPHONE 8. The entire movie. He has a daring streak and it’s really neat, especially when it is applied to genre stuff.  

TC: I can’t even get a good picture of my cat with my phone, let alone shoot an entire film…

MR:  So the writer is also familiar to you, or at least his work is. David Koepp wrote, among other things, Jurassic Park and the first Mission: Impossible.  

TC: Ok, so he’s basically awesome. 

MR:  ha, yeah, I think that he has some bona fides in genre work, I guess is the term? Spy stuff, monster movies. That bodes well for Kimi.  

TC: I’m also seeing Panic Room and Angels and Demons in Koepp’s filmography, which seems to fit in well with a thriller involving a person mostly in isolation. 

MR:  Oh, that’s a great point! I need to revisit Panic Room. Jodie, Kristen Stewart, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto maybe? When I saw it in theaters, I obvs didn’t know who Kristen Stewart was, but the rest of the movie is pretty hazy for me too.

TC: You remember a lot more than I do! That must of been one of Stewart’s first movies and hot dang, that is Dwight Yoakam!

MR: Per wiki, it is Stewart’s second film. Crazy! And Dwight is also the warden in Logan Lucky, one of the funniest roles in the whole movie.

TC: Everything is connected!



Question 3: Initial reviews for the film have been positive. What are your expectations for the movie? It could be plot, tone, performances, anything.

MR: For expectations: I expect a pretty tense film. Kimi is, I think, agoraphobic and works as a translator for some kind of official meeting videos or something? And she sees or hears something illegal? So there’s probably a lot of her being chased and not knowing who to trust. Sounds great! (Turns out that Kimi is the device, not the character. I didn’t know that at the time. –Ed.)

TC: Yes, I expect high tension as well. I also saw buzz words in the blurb like “COVID,” “protestors,” and “homeless.” As someone who has isolated a lot over the past year or two, it will be interesting to see some of the underlying tensions I feel when I go down a crowded grocery store aisle or have to share an elevator with a stranger played out in a suspense/thriller. These are small things that me and most other people probably never thought about, but I think are in the back of our minds now. 

MR: That is interesting, and not something I had thought about with the movie. If it does address masks, vaccines, quarantine, all of that, that is an additional layer of unease both for the character and the audience. Some of my classes are on campus and I have to be in rooms with people again, and it is still stressful even though everyone must wear masks in buildings on campus. That’s to say nothing of the stress of when we go to a grocery store (or most places) and only a handful of people other than us are wearing masks.

TC: I don’t know how much the movie will comment on such issues, but I think it will be an important piece of the background. A few years ago, an agoraphobe might have been hard to relate to, but I think most people’s sense of personal space has changed or at least been challenged enough to appreciate the fear of being around crowds. 

MR: That makes sense. Strange times we live in. I look forward to seeing the movie and really have high hopes for it. I’ve only seen Zoe Kravitz in Fury Road and that’s about it, but she is interesting and charismatic. Should be a great lead for the movie. We’ll have to reconvene after we see it and see if it met expectations.

TC: Agreed. I’ve only seen Kravitz in small roles, without realizing who she was. This will be the first movie I’ve seen her as a lead. She has an intriguing and mysterious air about her. I’m hopeful and excited!

MR: She will also be a fascinating Catwoman in the new Batman movie. But that’s a story for another day. 

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Break to watch movie

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Question 4: What are your initial thoughts now that you’ve seen Kimi?

MR: I… didn’t like it. I liked elements of the film. The sound design is perfect. The handheld cameras convey Angela’s distress. The cast are good to great, especially Andy Daly’s single scene and Kravitz as Angela. But they went too hard on the arc of “outside world = danger; apartment = safety; apartment = no longer safe; outside world = safe.” I think that even a simple moment of her letting her guard down on her journey to the Amygdala headquarters—something like passing a familiar restaurant and forgetting herself for a moment—would have gone a long way. I in no way want to downplay her trauma or emotional state, but this is still supposed to be an entertainment that we are sitting through. If I wanted to spend an hour and a half of sheer existential dread, I’d leave my own house and go to a public place.

TC: I was not a fan either. I thought it was wonderfully shot and I appreciated some of the topics the film explores. However, I found the acting to be a little flat. Perhaps Kravitz performs better than I realize, but I think she comes across as more quirky than troubled. And that’s really how I feel about the movie as a whole. On paper, it looks like a serious film, but while watching it, you can’t help but feel like there is a joke going on that no one has let you in on.

MR: On the subject of the movie feeling like it is joking, her neighbor is played by Devin Ratray, most famous for being Buzz McCallister in Home Alone. I like his performance in Kimi but it sure felt winking for him to be in the movie in a finale that really calls to mind the siege of the McCallister house by the Wet Bandits.

TC: Buzz! Now I can’t help but think of him with his binoculars watching the old man shoveling snow. I guess he is typecast as the neighborhood watch.



Questions 5: How did Kimi line up with your expectations or its reputation?

MR: For me, the movie was not as good as its reputation. I will rarely say this, but the movie needed another 20 minutes and another twist/setback. After the attempted kidnapping, which admittedly was tense and effective, the next jump is to the killers taking Angela back to her apartment, and that’s the end of the film. Maybe it was deliberate on the part of Koeep (screenwriter), but the movie didn’t have the moment of false security that I think elevates this type of thriller, like when Lithgow pretends to be a reporter in Blow Out . I had zero doubt that Rita WIlson’s Mrs. Chowdhury would be a shill for the higher-ups; it even felt like stunt casting to get a very famous nice person for that role. But Angela is never comfortable around anyone, so if she never lets down her guard, we never exhale for a minute, and a good thriller is about the modulation of stress.

TC: I finished the movie confused more than anything. The movie is previewed as a crime thriller, and it does build up tension fairly well throughout, but the last twenty minutes just seem more goofy than dramatic. I agree that it needed more time. I thought they would at least have some tension with her trying to report this and people not believing her due to her psychological struggles. I think the most profound surprise in the movie is who turns out to save the day in the end. In the first half of the movie, you think it critiques the invasiveness of our technology and how voyeuristic our culture has become. And by the end, the heroes turn out to be the voyeurs and the tech: as if to say, these are all serious problems, but sometimes we have to go outside, get some breakfast, and make the best of the mess.

MR: That is a really interesting observation. The crime is unearthed by someone listening to a recording, and later she is saved by a lookie lou from across the street. Overall, Kimi was a miss for me. It lacks the twists of a traditional thriller and is far too silly in its finale to be an effective drama.

TC: Yup. It has a lot of style, but doesn’t pay off. I was inspired to turn off my screen, but perhaps not for the reasons intended…

MR: Definitely makes me long for better blends of comedy and thriller, as in Logan Lucky and Haywire. At least in those, the surveillance state feels less scary than in the real world. It is a bummer overall, because I had high hopes for Kimi. Thank you, Trent. 

TC: This was a lot of fun. I would love to do it again sometime. It made watching it not so bad.