I like Paul Giamatti.
The guy was fan-fucking-awesome in American Splendor
and Sideways. He's an actor who gets that we didn't come
to see him play a role, but to see the character he plays. That's
unlike the big shots who always want you to know they acting;
they're still cool celebrities, just with an actorly layer on.
And when they are acting really, really hard, they want you
to know exactly how hard they're working. But instead of "Look
at me! I'm acting!" Giamatti says, "Look at this poor schlemiel."
I like to watch movies with him in them.
In Cold Souls,
Giamatti is pretty fucking good again. The man has the saddest
eyes. Actually, it's not the eyes, it's the bags under them,
and the red rings around them. He looks like someone who woke
up in a Exxon men's room with his wallet gone, a bite mark on
his arm, someone else's crack pipe shoved up his ass and a vague
feeling that it's his own fault. The problem with Cold Souls
is that its concept is so fucking high-brow and undercooked
that Giamatti has more work than even he can handle in trying
to weigh it down.
has a premise so precious that it better have something pretty
God damn interesting to say about it: extracting the soul. Giamatti
plays himself, a New York actor so absorbed by a character he's
playing that he's miserable. The character is Vanya from the
Chekhov play. Vanya is a whiny defeatist, much like Giamatti
has played before. This time, however, embodying Vanya is causing
him sleepless nights and physical pain. From the New Yorker
he learns of a company that can extract a person's soul, rendering
the person soulless and unable to feel the weight of the world
crushing them like a toppled case of Drano at the Wal Mart.
the procedure, believing that removing his soul will detach
him from his character and at least give him a good night's
sleep. It also makes him a horrible actor. He can no longer
feel what Vanya feels and hams his way through the role like
Jim Carrey doing Ace Ventura. Or Jim Carrey doing Andy Kaufmann.
Or Jim Carrey taking a dump, during which he probably still
hopes everyone notices how hard he's working. The soulless Giamatti's
like a shit taco with piss salsa. Going down the windpipe.
Once he realizes
how fucking awful an actor he's become and how crappy it is
to feel nothing, Giamatti asks for the return of his soul. For
plotting reasons he is told, no, he must choose another from
a catalog. The soul extracters have been importing souls from
Russia to supply the demand of people who want, not a mail-order
Russian bride, but just the essence of one. The extracters offer
him what was taken a poet, a very popular choice.
With his new soul
installed, Giamatti can really fucking act. He can do Chekhov
like it's a stroll in the park on a motorized scooter being
pulled by wolves. I mean, he's really fucking terrific. He's
also all torn up because along with the soul, he's received
fragments of its original owner's memories and fears. They aren't
his, and they are too beautiful, he thinks, to have been taken
away from someone else. When he tries to return the rented soul,
he learns that his own has gone missing.
This is where Cold
Souls, unfortunately, relies on a conventional plot. Giamatti's
soul has been spirited to Russia by the woman (Dina Korzun)
who carries the imported souls to the US in her body. She was
tasked by her Mafioso boss to bring back the soul of Al Pacino
for his actress wife, but sadsack Giamatti was the best disembodied
she could find. Apparently, Pacino sleeps okay at night.
Giamatti tracks down
Korzun and enlists her help in traveling to Russia, kidnapping
the mobster's wife and retrieving his soul. Once back in place,
we are to believe that Giamatti is more satisfied, not happier,
to be whole and complete with his soul. To have your soul, no
matter how tiny and no matter how much you hate it, is better
than to be without one.
goes a long way and makes a big deal out of a foregone conclusion.
Does anyone who believes in the soul think it's better to be
soulless? I mean, other than AM talk radio hosts. It's not a
deep thought and Cold Souls doesn't have much else to
say about our essence. The movie is based on the assumption
that we have souls and nobody in the movie doubts this. In fact,
when extracted, they have a physical presence. Each is different;
Giamatti's is the size, color and shape of a garbanzo bean.
Cold Souls doesn't say whether this is good or bad. Actually,
it works hard not to say, but wants to laugh at it. While Giamatti's
soul has a distinctive shape, the movie's idea of the soul is
amorphous. Is the soul where morality resides? Is it where your
personality exists? What does the soul do? The movie never says,
which is strange or lazy, because even among those who believe
in the soul, the definition varies.
could have gotten a lot of gags out of the difference between
those who believe in souls and those who don't. Hell, it could
have made some pretty timely observations about the soulless,
and about people's desperation to believe in something, ad to
put their money into it. I'd argue that the majority of people
eager to remove their souls probably didn't have one to begin
with. Or, if they did, it didn't work well, because one of its
jobs is to keep you from removing it.
Instead of something
intelligent, Cold Souls chooses conventional plotting
where the soul must be retrieved, like a diamond in a Pink
Panther movie or the golden dildo in Treasure of the
Chupa Madre 6. The movie becomes more about the action,
no matter how slowly it moves, than it does about the soul.
For sure, there's still plenty of kvetching and hand-wringing,
but it's pretty empty without the depth. Meanwhile, the action
moves at a slow pace. While borrowing the plot of a conventional
movie, it retains the pace of something that wants to be more
maybe could have been good. I don't know. It seems like writer-director
Sophie Barthes shot herself in the foot when she decided to
treat the soul like an object and not explore it. Two Fingers
for Cold Souls.
to tell Filthy Something?