Life and Death in L.A.: February 2022

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Is My Toaster Talking to Me? No, it’s just ‘Kimi’

s Steven Soderbergh’s tech thriller “Kimi” neo noir? Call it what you like, a crime thriller, perhaps, but the film, streaming on HBO Max, has undeniable links to neo-noirs of the past that focus on technology, how criminality can get wrapped up in it, and how tech’s persistent surveillance invades our privacy. Let’s call it “Paranoid Geek Noir.”

"Kimi" takes its time setting up the details, but once it gets underway all of the pieces begin to add up. David Koepp’s screenplay cleverly uses details that at first seem to be mere background information but turn out to be significant later on.

Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz) is a tech worker whose job it is to listen to recordings of data streams from a voice-activated Internet device called Kimi, much like the real-life Alexa. She’s suffering the after effects of a violent trauma and is self-isolating in a Seattle loft — except when she has an occasional booty call from her man friend whose office is across the street from her home. 

Her work-at-home job is supposed to help improve Kimi’s accuracy by listening to users’ failed attempts at making the voice activated machine do what they want it to, and correcting the malfunctions. It seems like a thankless job, but she approaches it with enthusiasm.

Listening to one recording, she thinks she hears the sounds of a serious crime being committed. She pulls out some techy thingamajigs to filter out background noise and listens to a chilling conversation. 

It’s easy to assume that her suspicions are nothing more than a paranoia born from extended isolation. But as we later learn, this niche of the tech world proves itself even more evil and vicious than our worst fears of it.

When Angela is finally forced to leave the safety of her home, she makes her way down seemingly endless corridors and staircases whose walls feel like they’re closing in on her. Those of us with COVID cabin fever can no doubt sympathize.

“Kimi” echoes films that center on technology that unexpectedly captures crime evidence, such as “The Conversation,” “Blow-Up” and “Blow Out.” Like the protagonists in those film, Angela is met with bureaucratic resistance when she tries to come forward with troubling evidence. 

Her stressed out CEO boss, Bradley Hasling (Derek DelGaudio), wants to sweep the matter under the rug, and the woman in charge of ethical matters in the company, Natalie Chowdhury (Rita Wilson), avoids reporting it to the authorities. Angela is puzzled at first, then quite rightfully terrified.

Kravitz’s isolated and highly capable Angela is bright, struggling to overcome her fears and impatient with others in the outside world. She’s as moody and angry as you’d expect of anyone in her emotional position. 

Despite her prickly manner we’re with her all the way as she struggles to escape the forces that will go to extreme measures to cover up damaging information. To say that she’s unprepared for the ordeal she’s about to face is a vast understatement. But against all odds, Angela uses her modest resources to rise to the seemingly impossible challenges she faces. 

The story comes to a breathless conclusion that ties up the loose ends, perhaps a little too neatly, and if you ignore some pretty big plot-dependent coincidences, it’s a worthwhile outing that wraps up in a tidy 90 minutes. 

A word of warning: As you view “Kimi” you might want to turn off some of your appliances. It might give them ideas.