Neo-noir is not a genre that has often been explored in recent years, with notable exceptions including the gritty works of David Fincher or the glossy Nicolas Winding Refn (both are quite violent). Leaning heavily into the Refn camp, Aaron Katz’s newest film “Gemini” boasts a visual aesthetic and strong performances that elevate the film’s shaky script.
Jill (Lola Kirke) is an assistant for Hollywood celebrity Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz), who is constantly dealing with the burden of overexposure and rumors about her personal life spreading like a plague. A shocking murder and nosy detective (John Cho) forces Jill into unraveling a mystery that will prove her innocence and test her understanding of friendship and fame.
The cinematography is stunning — Katz depicts a visually highbrow Los Angeles with imagery that particularly relies on blue, a color often associated with friendship and loyalty. On the surface level, the film draws out a whodunit plot as Jill goes to each possible suspect to piece the puzzle together. Every interaction adds another dimension of doubt to the ongoing mystery and Jill’s relationship with Heather. What sets Katz’s work apart from other Neo-noir cinematography: a smart commentary on how Hollywood fame violates one’s image and the desperate lengths one goes to take it back.
Unfortunately, Katz seems so obsessed, subtly delivering social commentary that the actual events of the movie struggle to deliver said social commentary. Jill’s interactions with each suspect are somewhat absorbing, especially with the comical Greg (Nelson Franklin), but as in any thriller, one anticipates an intense final act. Yet Katz shows an indifference to the final payoff — a bold choice, but very disappointing despite the message it was trying to send. The film had a deliberately-paced story that would have been quite rewatchable had the ending not turned out so inconsequential.
Perhaps the biggest revelation from this indie thriller is its impeccable lead, played so naturally by Kirke. Known for “Mozart in the Jungle,” Kirke has to carry a lot of the film on her own but is able to convey so much charm and anxiety through the tenacious Jill. Katz draws on her insecurities while figuring out the mystery, and Kirke just leaves the audience excited for what she’s going to do next. Kirke’s pairing with Kravitz is quite pleasurable as the two had great chemistry together, and the film would have failed if not for the foundation laid by their strong friendship. It is surprising to say the usually-great Cho was a let down. His detective character conveniently comes and goes, and his deadpan performance is not helped by some of the dialogue he is given.
Katz, who also edited the film, proves he has a very delicate visual palette and directing style that prevents “Gemini” from completely failing its themes. The same cannot be said for his script, which is strengthened by the cast –– especially Kirke — without which the film would not have its ambitious combination of cheeky wit and raw emotion underneath the thriller.
“Gemini” will open in theaters on Friday, March 30.
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