"Cold Souls" DVD, Blu-ray Review

3/03/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Review

"Cold Souls"

Directed by Sophie Barthes, Written by Barthes, 101 minutes, Rated R.

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Paul Giamatti, portraying a fictionalized version of himself, is anxious, angst-ridden, and can't stop his emotions from taking control of everything in his life. One day his agent calls him and tells him about a company rising in popularity that specializes in the removal and deep-freeze storage of the soul. Giamatti goes in right away and comes out a new man, the weight of his soul--his emotions, his fears, his dread--lifted from him. But he soon finds that our innermost feelings are what make us who we are, and before he can get his soul back, it's been misplaced and taken to St. Petersburg in a soul-trafficking scheme.

It's immediately noticeable that first-time feature writer/diretor Sophie Barthes is heavily inspired by the work of Charlie Kaufman, known for writing such existential, absurd comedies as "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Synecdoche, New York" (which he also directed). There are definitely elements from all of those here--a real-life actor being portrayed by himself in "Malkovich," an artist not being able to hone his craft in "Adaptation" and "Synecdoche," and the bizarre science fiction elements of "Eternal Sunshine" are all present, as well as the surreal internal logic of those films and the overall visual sensibilities. Even the use of sound is very similar to "Synecdoche."

It's not necessarily a bad thing to be inspired by someone (especially someone as admittedly brilliant as Kaufman, though his work is certainly not for everyone), but the problem is that there's really nothing new here. Barthes doesn't take any of these concepts and add her own spark. The thing about Kaufman's work is that you can always sense his presence in the writing--it was almost like he as the writer is his own character in the film (this was made quite literal in "Adaptation"), but Barthes doesn't seem to have much to add, and it all gets a bit dreary and dull.

It's a shame, really, because clearly Barthes has a real talent and a great eye for strong and intriguing visuals. In fact, I don't doubt she'd feel right at home directing one of Kaufman's scripts like Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry.

However, Paul Giamatti, who certainly is among the best character actors around, gives by far one of his best performances here. The subtlety he brings to so many different emotions is remarkable, and just like with his performances in "Sideways" or "American Splendor," he balances comedy and drama perfectly. And, in what seems to be his specialty, the desperation he conveys is extremely effective.

Unfortunately, he isn't exactly surrounded by much similar talent. David Strathairn gives a decent and goofy performance as the doctor who runs the soul-removal institution, but the rest of the cast is mostly completely overwhelmed by Giamatti. Even Emily Watson, who plays Giamatti's fictional wife, Claire, seems out of her element here, though I think a lot of the problems with the cast is that they're almost all underutilized. I can't blame Barthes--Giamatti is really in a league of his own--but she could have done something to make the other performers more useful.

Overall, "Cold Souls" isn't a massive disappointment--it's a solid directorial debut, and Giamatti's performance alone makes the film worth a watch. It's just too derivative and boring to reach its full potential.

Grade: C

View the movie trailer for "Cold Souls" below.  What are your thoughts?

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  1. Anonymous said...

    Looks funny and sad at the same time. Interesting if nothing else.