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August 15, 2009
Review - " Cold Souls "  - (in Theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Cold Souls movie poster - Paul Giamatti
Cold Souls
Directed by: Sophie Barthes
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson, David Strathairn

In "Cold Souls," actor Paul Giamatti plays and actor named Paul
Giamatti, who willingly puts the essence of his spiritual being in cold
storage with the hope of not experiencing, for just a little bit, his own
overwhelming life.

"Cold Souls" is a uniquely inventive dark and twisted tagicomedy. The
chief pleasure to be derived from watching Cold Souls is that it's a
journey into the unexpected. To one degree or another, even the best
screenplays tend to follow predictable trajectories, even when the
specifics are obfuscated. Cold Souls travels so far off the beaten trail
that it's difficult to discern where it might be going. Granted, the final
destination is more conventional than one might expect from such an
offbeat motion picture, but this is one of those movies where the
journey counts more than the arrival. There aren't many analogs
available; it bears a passing resemblance to the twisted concepts of
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", but even that is an imperfect
comparison, but there is that same strange twisted surreal feeling to
the film - and in many ways the concept is similar.

The film's underlying premise is that the "soul" is an organ like any
other in the human body and, by use of sophisticated machinery, it
can be extracted with little fuss and no blood. Soul extraction is a big
business - there's a soul black market, souls are donated
anonymously, they are shipped overseas, and people can have their
souls swapped out for those of others. All it takes is the money to pay
for the operation and the willingness to live a soulless life.
Paul Giamatti, playing a warped version of himself, is finding it tough going while rehearsing for a stage production of "Uncle
Vanya." His soul is weighing him down so, without discussing it with his wife, Claire (Emily Watson), he visits the soul removal
clinic run by Dr. Flinstein (David Strathairn). After the consultation, Paul agrees to have his soul removed but, once the
procedure is completed, he finds that life is hollow. His acting has lost its edge and he no longer loves his wife. However,
when he returns to Dr. Flintstein to have his soul re-inserted, it has disappeared. He learns that a "soul mule" named Nina
(Dina Korzun) has taken it to Russia where it now resides within a beautiful but vapid soap opera star (Katheryn Winnick).
Several times during the movie Giamatti rejects the opportunity to "take a look iside". Can you blame him?  Who amoung us
would truly want to look into his own soul? We know what darkness lies within us, although we we don't want to admit it. Darth
Vader may have embraced his dark side but most of us would prefer not to be confronted by it.

The strength of Cold Souls' comedy comes
from its sense of the absurd. There are scenes
in which actors have completely straight,
sometimes passionate conversations about
nonsensical topics like soul removal. The key
to this working is that the actors don't do this
slyly or tongue-in-cheek. We know it's
ridiculous but the characters treat it as a
matter of great seriousness, and therein lies
the humor. It's funny and it's intended to be
funny. There are other instances where things
are more blatantly irreverent, such as a scene
in which Paul Giamatti is on his knees
searching for his chick pea-shaped soul, which
has fallen out of its carrying case. ("Be careful!
Don't step on it!")

Paul Giamatti once again proves that he is
one of the best around when portraying a sad
sack. No one does it quite as well. And,
although he plays most of his scenes for comedic effect, there are some instances when he taps into a degree of pathos
that is touching. David Strathairn's straight-faced, ultra-serious interpretation of the soul removing doctor (based on a
shyster plastic surgeon) is on-target. Dina Korzun has a nice femme fatale quality that allows us to wonder for a while
whether there's a thriller element in all of this. And, although Emily Watson is fine during her screen time, she is underused. I
kept expecting more from this character because, as it exists, it could have been played by any "no name" character actress.
David Strathairn & Paul Giamatti in Cold Souls
Paul Giamatti - Cold Souls
The movie is full of nice offbeat touches -
from the location of the soul storage
company to what these souls actually look
like (which gives Giamatti a wonderful
excuse for his trademarked explosion of
mingled shame and outrage).

"Cold Souls" boasts a great premise and,
for the most part, it is well executed. For
those who like comedies that derive humor
through absurd situations and dialogue
rather than through more lowbrow
methods, this film is worth taking a chance
on. For all its quirks and laughs, there's
something in this film you haven't seen in
many others during this long summer.

A soul.