Director: Aaron Katz
Cast: Lola Kirke, Zoë Kravitz, John Cho, Nelson Franklin, Greta Lee, Michelle Forbes, Reeve Carney, Jessica Parker Kennedy, James Ransone, Ricki Lake
MPAA Rating: (for pervasive language, and a violent image)
Running Time: 1:33
Release Date: 3/30/18 (limited); 4/6/18 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | April 5, 2018
Writer/director Aaron Katz's Gemini is an engaging modern noir, until it completely falls apart with the revelation of its central mystery. The mystery in such stories really shouldn't matter. Noir is about attitude and atmosphere—rough-and-tumble characters, hiding some existential wound, and an oppressive view of the world.
It's clear that Katz understands this on a fundamental, foundational level. His vision of present-day Hollywood is such that, when a movie star is murdered in her opulent mansion, the talk is as much about public relations as it is about who may have killed the actress. Murder here is a matter of PR—not only managing the release of the tragic news, but also figuring out whose image could be helped or whose ego could be soothed by her death.
There's a decent list of suspects here, from a filmmaker whose passion project is derailed by the actress' decision to drop out of the movie, to a paparazzo who feeds off rumors about the star's personal life, to an ex-boyfriend who's heartbroken and angry, and to an agent who sees the actress' current trend of denying work opportunities as a substantial financial loss for herself. There are others, too, from a friend, who might be more than a friend, to a personal assistant, who always has to deliver the bad news to a filmmaker or roomful of studio executives.
There have been threats: The words, "I'm going to kill her," or some variation thereof, are said a few times here. A super-fan seems a little too eager to push the boundaries of a chance meet-and-greet. The star is convinced that someone has taken a candid photo of her and the friend who may be more than a friend.
When there are this many suspects, each one with a reasonable-enough motive or cause for suspicion, it's clear enough that the mystery itself is of secondary importance. That's the case here, as Katz follows Jill (Lola Kirke), the actress' assistant, doing some amateur detective work, while evading the actual police detectives who are convinced that she had the motive, the opportunity, and capability to kill her employer.
The story begins as a laid-back look into the relationship between Jill and Heather (Zoë Kravitz), the movie star who has become tired of the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. Heather wants some peace and quiet for a change, leaving Jill to break the news to Greg (Nelson Franklin), the filmmaker, and a major studio, which wants her to come in for reshoots.
Beneath the desire for a less-hectic schedule, though, is something else. Heather tells Jill that she's constantly afraid. Everyone is out to get something from her. The actress asks her assistant to borrow a pistol. After some convincing, Jill hands the weapon over to Heather, who promises that the chances of her having to use it are slim to none.
Then, after the meeting at the studio, Jill arrives to find Heather's body on the floor of the star's mansion. She has been shot five times with Jill's gun. The assistant accidentally fired the sixth bullet earlier that morning, while considering taking the pistol from her friend/employer. Detective Ahn (John Cho) soon points out that the only evidence—fingerprints, gunshot residue, and the last person known to see Heather alive—points to Jill. He just doesn't have a warrant—yet.
The resulting conversations, as Jill tracks down and interviews the potential suspects, are less like interrogations and more akin to business dealings. Heather's agent (played by Michelle Forbes) worries more about how to handle the press fallout of the news of her client's murder than the murder itself. Devin (Reeve Carney), the ex-boyfriend, denies involvement, despite telling Jill that he's going to kill Heather near the start of the movie, and would rather get the details about his now-dead ex's love life. A gossip-rag photographer named Stan (James Ransone) injects himself into a conversation between Jill and Ahn, hoping to a scoop about whatever twisted motives may have caused a personal assistant to kill her famous employer.
Greg, still despondent about his movie being canned, imagines the entire scenario in the terms of a screenplay. In case we hadn't figured out that Katz's intentions for the central mystery are more of a lark than a genuine concern, Greg lays out whom to eliminate, based solely on whether an audience would find it too predictable, while also presenting what he thinks would be a hell of a twist ending.
The movie is involving and wickedly critical, while also giving Katz and cinematographer Andrew Reed the chance to present an alternately sunlit and neon-infused variation on the look of a classic noir. Kirke is quite effective, too, as a sort of unreliable protagonist (Greg's words about that twist ending seem more relevant as Jill goes out of her way to avoid the cops and recognition), whose motives for investigating Heather's murder could be atonement or self-preservation.
By the end, though, it all crumbles, as Katz provides a borrowed spin on the mystery (Without giving anything away, it comes from one of the most famous of noir films) that makes no sense. That's fine, since the mystery doesn't matter. Less forgivably, Gemini brushes off the implications of the solution, avoiding an even darker mystery—the influence of celebrity culture on the truth, justice, and personal relationships.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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