The Popcorn Reel                                                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                Monday, August 24, 2009                                                                      

Cold Souls

David Straithairn (left) as Dr. Flintstein and Paul Giamatti as Paul Giamatti in Sophie Barthes' film "Cold Souls",
which opened in various U.S. cities recently and is expanding across the country.  (Photo: Adam Bell/Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Paul Giamatti's Soul, Lost In Translation
By Omar P.L. Moore/    SHARE
Monday, August 24, 2009

One of the cleverest, most unsentimental films of 2009, "Cold Souls", directed by Sophie Barthes, is an entertaining film whose subtle tonal shifts are refreshing to experience, as is the acting of its lead player Paul Giamatti, on a quest to find his soul after it mysteriously goes missing during a "soul storage" operation.  Mr. Giamatti plays himself, etching the most excruciating expressions on his face as he is immersed in the ups and downs of a journey to find an essential part of what makes him tick.  His journey takes him from New York City to Russia, where a trafficking of souls has been burgeoning on the underground market. 

Ms. Barthes also writes "Cold Souls", supplying priceless lines of dialogue for her protagonist, whose life is in free fall, with a wife (Emily Watson) with whom he appears to have lost touch.  Dr. Flintstein (David Straithairn) is the architect of Soul Storage in New York City, and after Mr. Giamatti buys what the good doctor is selling, things go from one extreme to another.  "Cold Souls" becomes a comedy, a thriller, a drama, a science-fiction work and an adventure in existential crises along the way, never losing its value as a compelling and intelligent work.  Miss Barthes resists sentimentality and cliché in constructing a well-directed, intelligent feature film. 

"Cold Souls" explores just how much value a soul has and whether the people who possess and then lose those souls are worthy of redemption.  The film's title also appears to be an umbrella term for those who traffic in souls, whether literally or metaphorically.  The director's approach to the issues presented are nothing less than sincere, and ultimately the film is a thought-provoking statement filled with funny moments and touches of melancholy.  "Being John Malkovich" may have been inventive as conceived by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze several years ago, but "Cold Souls" cuts to the chase when addressing questions of self-identity, celebrity and privacy, keeping gimmickry on the sidelines.  Mr. Giamatti is at his best here, a supremely talented yet underrated actor who plays himself without hamming up what could have been a very ham-type performance in another actor's hands. 

There's a lot to like about Ms. Barthes' film, which holds our interest and keeps us intrigued, but Mr. Giamatti's performance and beautiful cinematography by the film's co-producer Andrij Parekh are among the most noteworthy aspects "Cold Souls" has on display.

With: Dina Korzun, Katheryn Winnick and Lauren Ambrose.

"Cold Souls" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for nudity and brief strong language.  The film is in the English and Russian languages with English subtitles.  The film's duration is one hour and 41 minutes.

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