STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
•Soul Extractor Featurette
Paul Giamatti stretches his acting muscles playing Paul Giamatti, an actor who freaks out and worries.
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Emily Watson, David Strathairn, Lauren Ambrose, Dina Korzun
Written and Directed by Sophie Barthes
Paul Giamatti extracts his soul to lift life’s unbearable weight off his shoulders. Unfortunately, it makes him a terrible actor. He needs it back but his chickpea-sized soul is now on the black market in Russia. What’s an Academy Award nominated actor to do?
Every actor wants to have a film that centers around them. Few actually appear in films that revolve around a fictional version of themselves. The one that most immediately comes to mind is John Malkovich in Spike Jonze & Charlie Kaufman’s Being John Malkovich. Additionally, having an odd medical practice that seems to exist in the shadows of reality also recalls Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, especially when you populate it with a mysterious machine that pulls the unbearable weight of life from the patient. So right from the beginning, the deck is stacked against Paul Giamatti in Sophie Barthes’ Cold Souls.
So long, Austin Powers!
Giamatti is excellent as usual in the film; few actors truly could handle the range on display here. The explosive Paul Giamatti cliché yelling and furrowed brow are on display early in the film as Giamatti prepares for playing Uncle Vanya on the stage. Once Giamatti’s soul is removed upon a visit to the soul extraction facility that he reads about in The New Yorker (yes it’s subtle, but that also reminds me of Jonze and Kaufman’s Adaptation.), his character becomes docile, blank like a person who is perpetually daydreaming. His performance playing Uncle Vanya at this point is hands down the best part of the movie. It’s not quite “bad acting” acting, as it is a clearly thought out performance of hilariously soulless acting.
Living soullessly not only affects his work, but his home life as well. A scene at dinner with friends where Giamatti blankly suggests pulling the plug on a friend’s mother is comical on a level that the film unfortunately never maintains and this reviewer could watch the way he eats without a soul for a good while longer (thankfully, it’s a deleted scene on the disc).Emily Watson unfortunately has little to do as Paul’s fictional wife Claire, and it very much recalls her similar role with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, NY. Soon enough, Paul is convinced that he must have a soul, and he returns to find his little chickpea has been stolen, passed on to the Russian black market for souls.
Wait… I recognize this place. I’ve been here before.
Dina Korzun, whom I have never seen before, is quite good as the mysterious Russian woman Nina, who is an international soul smuggler. However, the film seems to drag as Paul teams up with her to do some soul searching (*rimshot*) and the adventure of travelling to Russia and confronting the black market isn’t that enthralling. There is a nice secondary story of sorts as Paul is experiencing things anew through his replacement soul, from a Russian factory worker, but it never reaches the emotional peak that Paul without a soul reaches through comedy. In the end it is hard to say what the point of it all is. Obviously there is firm belief in the presence of the soul, and how it can effect our emotional and spiritual state. But what does it mean to absorb the soul of another person? And does it truly change Paul Giamatti’s life? There are questions each audience member will have to ponder for themselves.
The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, along with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The bonus features are slim, and there is nothing involving writer/director Sophie Barthes or star Paul Giamatti. No commentary, no behind the scenes, not even an EPK. What we do get is a brief featurette that lasts a few minutes and shows photos and footage from the film involving the soul extractor machine, which looks like the love child of an MRI machine and Marvin the Robot from the recent Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film. Over the visuals is audio commentary from the industrial designers who designed and built this impressive prop that is central to the film. There are also nine deleted scenes. They are short clips best left on the cutting room floor, except a longer scene of Giamatti playing Vanya with no soul which is by far the best part of the movie.
Whatever shitty year you are having, it is nothing compared to my 1967.