Cold Souls is yet another example of a clever concept hampered by poor follow-through. I love the ideas at play in Cold Souls and casting Paul Giamatti in the lead role was a stroke of genius, but the final film is a frustratingly dull, drab and surface level experience. It's a movie about losing your soul that doesn't really have one; a film school project that feels like it’s trying to come up with something that could be compared to Charlie Kaufman, but missing the emotional weight of that talented writer/director's work. Cold Souls is proof that even with a great concept, it's not impossible to have lackluster execution.
Paul Giamatti plays himself as a neurotic mess, someone who feels like the over-burdened soul that he brings to roles like the one he's currently playing in Uncle Vanya is emotionally devastating his life. Who hasn't thought about the weight of the human soul and how much more one could accomplish without the burden of it? Paul reads an article in the New Yorker about Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn), a man who has built an industry around the miraculous new science of soul storage. He will extract your soul and keep it for a few days or weeks in something like a safety deposit box. Without telling his wife (Emily Watson) and to not get so emotionally drained by "Vanya," Paul has his soul (which resembles a chick pea) put in a glass container and stored away by the good doctor.
It turns out that the doctor has been working with the Russians in an illegal soul-transporting black market trade. Overseas, people are selling their souls just to feed their family and the souls are being transported stateside in the bodies of human mules, including a lovely one named Nina (Dina Korzun), and sold as “Russian Poets” or “Russian Artists.” The mules take in the sold souls, which are then extracted on the other side of the planet. The process is tasking on Nina and she's about to break both emotionally and physically when the man behind the Russian side of the soul trade decides that he wants to put an actor's soul in the body of his model girlfriend to give her a step-up in the business. Guess whose soul gets stolen? It's not Al Pacino’s.
Clearly, Cold Souls features some clever ideas, but the execution is too often dull and uninspired. Far too much of the film is devoted to the particulars of the soul trade and the plot about the Russian model who wants an actor's soul. Writer/director Sophie Barthes spends more time than needed on these details and misses the emotional undercurrents and even the humor required to make a film like Cold Souls work. The best scenes in the film are practically throwaway moments between Giamatti and Watson or the star and Korzun that feel human, not the details of the plot. To put it bluntly, Cold Souls is interesting, but it's never quite funny, moving, or touching like it needed to be in order to be effective. It may sound clichéd, but the emotional detachment I felt from Cold Souls left me with a film that really needed a little warmth.
Rating: TWO BONES