Over the years, ‘film noir’ has evolved and been appropriated for the culture more consistently and successfully than any other film genre. In the 60’s, Jean Pierre Melville and Jean Luc Godard played with its foundation and appearance as filtered through the distinctive ‘nouvelle vague’ gaze with films such as Alphaville (1965) and Le Samourai (1967). In the 70’s, Robert Altman turned the genre on its ear with his sunny, laconic masterpiece The Long Goodbye (1973), which still stands as one of his most recognizable efforts today. The 80’s and 90’s saw film noir turning sleek, glossy and neon as directors like Michael Mann and Steven Soderbergh updated the genre to reflect the preponderance of MTV-style flash invading the movies.
Now, with the new film Gemini, directed by Aaron Katz, the genre has been leveraged again in a completely fresh imagining, lost in a haze of somnambulist Los Angeles glow and carefully orchestrated paranoia as people go missing and others are forced to become junior private eyes, wading through traditional methods of investigation as well as the murky, dangerous wastelands of social media. I’m not quite ready to lump this film in the canon with the others mentioned above just yet (a few more years of introspection are necessary, of course, to join those guidepost efforts), but it’s quite the firecracker of a film, confident and memorizing in the way it updates film noir and latches onto something altogether frightening about our modern culture and the need to disappear from its carnivorous nature.
The person in question caught at the center of this digital maelstrom is Heather (Zoe Kravitz), a young, hugely popular actress who recently made the decision to stop working on a film as they ask for more re-shoots. The unfortunate duty of telling the studios and her director (Nelson Franklin) falls on the able shoulders of her personal assistant Jill (Lola Kirke, so good in Mistress America).
As if that step backwards from the limelight doesn’t make Heather a hated Hollywood figure already, she’s also recently broken up with her boyfriend (Reeve Carney). Basically, within the first ten minutes of Gemini, she’s told by at least two people that they’ll actually kill her.
It’s no big surprise when, several scenes later, Heather turns up dead in her spacious hills home. What is shocking is that Jill comes into focus as the sole suspect since she spent the night in Heather’s home, complete with matching prints on the gun that killed her. Trying to parse out the scenario is detective Ahn (John Cho), who keeps one eye glued to Jill while Jill herself slips off into the night to find out who killed her boss and best friend.
Frankly, any plot description of Gemini sounds rote, but it’s far from that. Director Katz- who broke onto the film scene with two wonderfully etched low fi films in the early 2000’s called Quiet City and Dance Party USA– imbues every inch of his latest film with style and flavor. The relationship between Heather and Jill is balanced naturally between both actresses. Their dialogue is easy, familiar and Katz (who also wrote the screenplay) ensures Kravitz portrays Heather with a distracted sense of ‘something’ going on, as if she’s continually looking into the distance while she’s speaking.
Lola Kirke, as Jill, is just as equally good. Wide eyed and observing everything around her even as she’s glued to the digital tendrils of her phone, it’s her wittiness and curiosity that slowly but surely solves the riddle even as most clues point to her own involvement. Bracketed around the familiar as well as the not-to-familiar days and nights of Los Angeles, Kirke’s transformation from tough administrator to junior P.I. as she seeks out jilted lovers and new friends is handled beautifully. It’s even a bit uproarious when she dons a trench coat like outfit and hat in her own ‘hispter-ish’ way to conform to the idea of what a private investigator in 2018 should look like.
Playing with aesthetic style as well, Katz chooses a dizzying visual scheme as his camera archs, spins and slowly dances around the tall palm trees that seem to be observing and even making fun of Kirke’s snoop and search quest. Addled by the pulsing, retro-disco soundtrack of composer Keegan DeWitt, Gemini is an electric, absorbing film whose roots in film noir have been transformed into something vibrant and truly ‘now’.
On second thought, I am ready to pronounce Gemini worthy of the films mentioned in the beginning. Not only should this stand confidently with other genre busting visions, but it’s one of the very best films of the year. It will linger and bounce in your head for days. Even if one doesn’t agree with the outcome of its basic detective narrative, it’s a film that digests, subverts and then spits out film noir bravado with the best of them.
Gemini opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, April 6 at the Angelika Dallas and Plano locations.