I’d first heard about Cold Souls when the star, Paul Giamatti, came onto The Daily Show to promote it. The clip used made the film appear to be a quirky, odd, and funny drama/comedy mashup and based on the clip and the fact that I’ve become a fan of Giamatti’s past works…it didn’t take much to pique my interest in this film. Sadly it debuted in fifty-two theaters (although just from those fifty-two it grossed almost a million dollars…not too bad), so any chance of catching its theatrical run was null and void for me. Mind you this all occurred back in August of 2009, so by the time the title was actually announced for a home video release, I’d almost entirely forgotten about it. But, thankfully, Fox did finally toss it out on DVD (and DVD only—no Blu-ray) for those of us who weren’t able to see it during its very (very) limited run.
Paul Giamatti (Sideways) stars as an actor named… Paul Giamatti. During rehearsals for Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” he finds his soul growing so heavy under the weight of the material that his whole life begins to suffer. When Giamatti hears of a doctor who extracts and stores souls, he decides to undergo the procedure. Unburdened, Giamatti’s life becomes freewheeling, easygoing… and more intolerable than ever! He returns to the doctor demanding his old soul back, but a little snafu involving the Russian black market leads him on a harrowing journey that gives new meaning to the term “soul searching!”
As if the premise enough of Giamatti playing, essentially, himself wasn’t enough the actual execution of the film was something akin to a surrealist comedy. The technology is laughable but at the same time not all that mind-bending (whenever they try to explain it I just roll with the punches…plus the soul extracting machine looked cool enough I gave it a pass), so while the premise was far-fetched…at the same time it really wasn’t. It was also a very interesting character study about what would happen if you could swap souls and…well, that was actually probably a point of contention for many as well.
Since no one would really know how a person without a soul would act, it’s all just a lot of conjecture in this film, really. As they tried to explain the fundamentals of soul residue and all that I just kind of glossed over it, as the real purpose of this film was to see how Giamatti’s character would change without and with a soul (including a go-a-round with a soul that wasn’t his). It, again, was just a very entertaining look into a “what if” style scenario. Giamatti’s actions weren’t changed too drastically, but enough to the point where his acting style was greatly affected.
The film was relatively breezy in pace, running barely over an hour and a half, and never really weighed down on your shoulders at any given time. There was also an abundance of humor; not entirely as lighthearted as the usual brand of comedy goes but not quite “black” comedy either. It was kind of in a gray area, where you were laughing at the situations the characters were in rather than their actual actions. Some of Giamatti’s reactions were really just priceless and while there were quite a few moments where I was laughing, it was hardly the “You’ll laugh till it hurts” quote plastered on the front of the box. Funny, yes. But not so much so that you’ll have to pause to catch your breath; not that that’s a bad thing, considering how the general tone of the movie is anyway. It’s also not a film for everyone, as I could see it being too annoying or ridiculous a concept for many to really grasp.
For me the real selling point of the film was Giamatti playing himself. I’m not sure if it would have worked if it were any other random fictional character. Yes, I doubt Giamatti is actually literally playing himself in the film, but it adds a layer of realism to what would otherwise be a very unreal movie. It doesn’t bend the mind quite as significantly as something like Eternal Sunshine did, so you can’t pass off that “weird” technology with the associated strange visuals. Cold Souls is much more subtle, with the soul acting kind of like a collection of precious memories that define you in some way (at least that’s what I got out of it). There wasn’t a lot of substance to the movie, as it really left most of it up to the actors within it. Emily Watson was great in it as Giamatti’s wife, but her role was relatively brief and didn’t leave nearly the lasting impact that Dina Korzun left on the audience. As a “soul mule,” Korzun was a rather fractured individual as she retained a lot of soul fragments in her, so her performance was constantly shifting ever so slightly throughout.
Overall Cold Souls comes Recommended. It’s definitely not for everyone and could be considered an “arty” piece in some circles, but it’s a little bit more main stream than that. Plus, as I said before, the performances help and the film isn’t completely without humor—it just has its own style that is a lot more subtle than the type most are probably used to.
Fox releases Cold Souls on DVD in a standard single disc Eco Amaray case. The cover art is new (sadly they didn’t use the previous poster for the film—that Russian nesting doll effect was cool and would played in with the heavy Russian influence on the film itself), but works for the film ultimately. Extras are pretty lacking, sadly, but it’s better than straight up barebones (but not by much). Video and audio are what you’d expect from a modern production and no major signs of compression or other ugly artifacts are really noticeable. Audio was loud and clear and you occasionally heard the 5.1 kick in with the use of the soul sucker machine…but that’s about it.
Soul Extractor (Slide Show) (3:12)
Nine Deleted Scenes (8:22)
The ‘Soul Extractor’ bit is narrated by those responsible for designing and building it, so that was interesting at least. But the nine deleted scenes are, as usual, pretty forgettable. Nice of them to be included, but I would’ve absolutely loved a director/actor commentary on this one…it’s really the type of movie that you just want to know more about in terms of the thought and writing process that went into it.
Sadly this is a Rental only—the extras just don’t warrant a purchase, unless you really like this movie anyway.
Cold Souls is now available on DVD.