Put “Dark Souls” In The Great Dark Comedy Column
As I sit staring at the screen of this iBook, I struggle to come up with a way to explain “Cold Souls” to you. This would probably be the most surreal movie you will ever see. Then again, it may not be. You see, this movie deals with soul removal. One could assume that such a strange, bizarre concept would lead to a movie filled with odd characters, strange situations, and just overall craziness. That assumption is also incorrect.
“Cold Souls” is about an actor named Paul Giamatti (oddly enough, played by Paul Giamatti) who is starring in a New York stage version of Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya”. The dramatic role is taking its toll on Paul and he struggles to balance Vanya with his real life. A friend tells Paul about an article in the New Yorker about a company called Soul Storage based on Roosevelt Island that will naturally remove your soul and, yes, store it for you.
Paul’s curiosity gets the better of him and he visits Soul Storage, where he meets Dr. Flinstein, played brilliantly by the great David Strathairn. Flinstein explains the procedure to him, shows him a few souls that he keeps in glass jars, and does it all with complete nonchalance. Paul hilariously questions the procedure with sarcastic wit, but his actor insecurity gets the best of him and yes, Paul has his soul removed.
Unfortunately, Paul gets mixed up with a black market soul smuggling ring that is based in Russia. That’s right…a black market soul smuggling ring, which as we learn from Dr. Flinstein, can be quite financially lucrative. Nina (Russian actress Dina Korzun) has had her own soul erased in order to have souls implanted in her, which she then has removed by Dr. Flinstein in the United States.
After a few days without his soul, Paul realizes that he just cannot function correctly. His wife Claire (Emily Watson) notices some severe changes in him and his work in “Uncle Vanya” suffers greatly. So Paul goes back to Dr. Flinstein to get his soul back, but Dr. Flinstein talks him into taking on another soul. After perusing the Anonymous Soul Donor list, Paul chooses the soul of a Russian poet, which was brought into the United States by Nina. This helps his “Uncle Vanya” performance, but has still left him with problems at home.
After reading this, you could safely assume that this movie is an insightful look at the human soul. It is…and a hilarious one at that. It would be remiss of me to say how easily one would think this is a bit of a rip-off of “Being John Malkovich”. It is not even close. This movie is completely based in reality…other than the whole “soul removal” bit of business. It isn’t zany, it isn’t slapsticky, it is good ole fashioned cynical, dark comedy.
This type of humor is right in Paul Giamatti’s wheelhouse and, as usual, he delivers in every way. If there was a way for Giamatti’s eyebrow to be nominated for Best Actor, well, we would need to get the press material ready for that campaign. Giamatti can do self-loathing like no other and he really gets to put his full range of comedic and dramatic skills on display here. It’s easily his best performance since “Sideways” and continues to prove his greatness.
“Cold Souls” is going to be one of two things: loved or hated. Personally, I loved it. This is one of those movies that is so unique and different, without delving into pure fantasy, that it will certainly divide audiences. Of course, I don’t expect it to have that large of an audience in the first place, considering it was released on August 7th and was only in 21 theaters at the most.
Cinematically Correct note: While Giamatti makes “Cold Souls” worth watching today, keep an eye out for the French writer/director of the flick Sophie Barthes in the future.