Recently, I’ve been replaying Rockstar’s underrated video game “L.A. Noire” on its PS4 remaster. It made me realize how much I miss the noir genre in film, but I couldn’t really place where the last film of the genre I’d seen had been. The trailer for “Gemini” came out a good while back, back in the late months of Summer 2017, but I’ll be honest in stating that it didn’t do much for me. The trailer seemed attractive, but incredibly far off from its late March limited release date. The premise seemed interesting, I loved the cast and the poster was absolutely gorgeous. I was interested, even if I wasn’t excited about the film. As I waited for its release, the film basically went radio silent, and it wasn’t until I had to actively search for it online to find out it was ever playing here in Charlotte.
But dammit, I’m so glad I did.
Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke) is the personal assistant to mega-movie star Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz) based out of the Hollywood Hills. Jill and Heather share not only a close professional bond, but an incredibly close friendship. As of late, Heather’s want to step away from the spotlight has placed her in hot water with a few industry colleagues banking on her success. After attending a meeting with a studio on Heather’s behalf, Jill returns to Heather’s home to find her brutally murdered. After being questioned by lead detective Edward Ahn (John Cho), Jill begins to realize she’s the prime suspect in the murder. Alone in Los Angeles, and avoiding the cops before her eventual arrest, Jill must traverse Heather’s final interactions with her hotly contentious circle of acquaintances to get to the bottom of her murder.
I expected to enjoy “Gemini” at least, but I did not expect “Gemini” to be the slam-bang neo-noir diamond it is. This film doesn’t go in any of the directions you might think it would from the get-go, and its grounded nature makes the film really come together by the finale. This isn’t a salacious or over-the-top mystery film, nor does it intentionally lead you in a million different directions before pulling the rug out from under you. Like Jill says to a character at one point in the film “This isn’t a movie, this is real life,” and despite a few inconsistencies in the general behavior of investigations, “Gemini” feels like it, a neon-drenched, lavish reality.
Kirke steals the show here in “Gemini.” Jill is smart, but not so smart that she’s unlike any person you’ve ever met in your life. Jill isn’t some Lisbeth Salander type, the clues are unfolding for her at the same rate as her opposition, and she only ever stays at most one step ahead of those looking to lock her up. She’s daring, but she’s not reckless. Realistic, but not boring. Kirke brings a sort of energy to the role that feels fiercely subdued in her desperation, which I found really refreshing for a female protagonist. She’s the assistant to someone richer, more famous and more successful than her, but she never feels like the mousy servant, but rather a paid companion. Kravitz is also really good here, with a different side to her than seen in other films starring her. She’s a tough cookie, but not one with a hard exterior. She keeps herself guarded for the cameras, but opens up easily to those she trusts. Heather and Jill’s friendship is a really admirable one that almost makes being a personal assistant not seem too bad.
Bathed in richly saturated neon lights (ironically, the film is also distributed by Neon), “Gemini” is one hell of a looker, but not one so enveloped in a strange sub-reality of Los Angeles that it feels disconnected from the world. “Gemini” almost feels somewhere in between the foreign romanticism of “La La Land,” and the horrifying underbelly of’ “The Neon Demon,” and it’s a beauty to look at. Director Aaron Katz and cinematographer Andrew Reed paint a semi-loving portrait of Los Angeles, with one foot in the mysticism of Hollywood, and the other one in the leeches that come out at night when one gains notoriety. Unlike the previously mentioned films, “Gemini” is about the struggle that comes after fame and fortune are won, and the target that is placed on one’s back once the public gaze is turned on them.
At 93 minutes, “Gemini” is a short stay, but not one that ever drags, or even feels rushed for that matter. There isn’t a need for the film to constantly barrage you with twists at every single turn, as the film moves with an organic flow that doesn’t feel the need to assault the audience with ridiculous ways to shock the audience. Rather, the entire film feels like a police line-up of potential suspects all doing perhaps the most suspicious things possible, making the explanation of any of them being the one who killed Heather ultimately understandable.
And what about the third act? Does it deliver? Sure. In a way one might not expect, which is good for a mystery such as this. I’ll admit that while I was hashtag shook at the revelation, some might find it to be a bit too much of a left turn, albeit one that doesn’t feel so out there that it’s not plausible, but just not generally anticipated. Of complaints I’ve heard of the film, its final act is what is drawing the most criticism, yet I found “Gemini” to be riveting up until the very last frame.
There’s a sort of hazy bliss to “Gemini,” that even in its dark gritty moments, shines through. It’s a murder mystery film that doesn’t feel inherently salacious or obnoxious about being so unique and twisty that it begs for your attention. It’s a slower, glossier take on the neo-noir genre that marks a stunning achievement for Katz and a wonderful breakthrough for star Kirke. It’s a film that is short, sweet, to the point, and can almost feel slight in its unpretentious nature, but make no mistake, “Gemini” packs a serious punch that is not to be underestimated, and certainly won’t be forgotten (at least by me) for quite a long time.
Directed by: Aaron Katz
Starring: Lola Kirke, Zoë Kravitz, Greta Lee, Nelson Franklin, Reeve Carney, Jessica Parker Kennedy, with Ricki Lake, and John Cho.
Runtime: 93 minutes
Rating: R for pervasive language and a violent image.
Now playing exclusively at Regal Ballantyne Village.
Neon and Stage 6 Films present, in association with Filmscience, a Syncopated Films/Pastel production, in association with Rough House Pictures, “Gemini”