“And trust me, I know bad: I used to moderate for Facebook.”
Steven Soderbergh’s post-lockdown thriller is beautifully shot and frequently tense, though its increasingly implausible third act loses its way. An agoraphobic protagonist is a smart way cheaply to accommodate COVID restrictions, with many scenes consisting of just a single actor communicating with others by voice or videocall. Coupled with Soderbergh’s tendency to act as his own cinematographer and editor, it presumably enabled a rapid shooting schedule with a small crew. The premise is that Angela, a low-level employee working on a voice assistant smart speaker (“Kimi” standing in for Siri/Alexa), hears a user recording that appears to capture a murder, something that the company would prefer to ignore. Kimi draws considerable inspiration from Hitchcock’s masterful Rear Window, designed around similar constraints, paying homage through frequent shots peering into the windows of the apartments opposite. The film makes passing criticism of Big Tech’s casual disregard for privacy and informed consent, as well as the danger of widespread surveillance, but for the most part technology acts merely as a plot device. Zoë Kravitz imbues Angela with both steely determination and vulnerable anxiety, compelling enough to command attention when she is the only character on screen for extended stretches. Aside from Angela’s vibrant blue hair and the pink glow of Kimi’s light ring, the apartment is softly lit in warm and invitingly subdued hues, contrasting the harsh brightness of the outside world. Kimi is a fine example of a trimmed down thriller with efficient storytelling, the type of mid-budget filmmaking that is becoming increasingly rare, though perhaps a rich vein for streaming services to mine in future.
“Fear is a tool. When that light hits the sky, it’s not just a call. It’s a warning.”
Matt Reeves’ The Batman is the stylish reboot that (non-comedy) superhero films have needed, with their ever-increasing scale and shared-universe homogeneity. The “Year 2” storyline thankfully avoids yet another origin story, though parallels are drawn early on with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Instead, we see an established Batman dealing with street-level crime (emerging from the shadows like Vader to Michael Giacchino’s imposing brass score), already mistrusted by the police though he is called in to investigate crime scenes and track down leads. Grounded in realism with noir and gothic cinematic sensibilities, The Batman‘s greatest inspiration seems to come from another dark, winged creature, Alex Proyas’ The Crow, with its relentless pursuit of thugs through stylised streets soaked in shadows and rain. It seems most overt when Batman removes his mask to reveal a smear of black around his eyes and matted hair, reminscent of Eric Draven’s iconic appearance. The open jawline of the redesigned cowl allows Robert Pattinson to emote far more than recent incarnations, perhaps essential when he spends so little time as a reclusive Bruce Wayne. Despite spending most of the time as Batman, the action is rather limited though it oozes style: a brief corridor fight lit only by bursts of muzzle flash, or a car chase in the rain with near-zero visibility. It is a rare superhero where the climactic set piece is actually the film’s most satisfying. Greig Fraser’s cinematography deploys sharp camera angles, high contrast and often limited colour in a creative interpretation of some of the most striking Batman comicbook art. The ensemble cast excels, with few simple caricatures. Paul Dano’s Riddler is deliberately ordinary, like the Zodiac Killer crossed with Jigsaw, as the film briefly explores Batman’s complicity in inspiring his villains as well as the Internet incubation of rightwing extremism. An unrecognisable Colin Farrell is underused as Penguin, though the stage has clearly been set for him to take a central role in the future. The Batman‘s chief flaw is in editing, running too long with intermittent pacing issues affecting a number of scenes, but that only slightly diminishes the overall accomplishment.
Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.