11 June 2011 | secondtake
an almost brilliant idea, almost amazing performance, and an almost terrific film
Cold Souls (2009)
This is a concept movie, in a way, though the concept--that you can have your soul extracted and stored in a jar so that you can live without its weight--is actually a bit thin after awhile. What drives it is not something actually heavy or surreal, about having and trading real souls, but more the idea that your soul also affects, very slightly, your personality, or your talent. So really what happens is people begin to trade or borrow souls, and they acquire a little bit of the owner's qualities. And that carries along a few consequences. naturally.
Everything is presented in a deadpan comic way. The souls stored in their foot long glass jars vary greatly, some looking like creative sculptures and others like, well, a jelly bean. Or in the case of our hero, Paul Giamatti, a garbanzo bean. (The Russian half of the cast says in joyful astonishment, "a chick pea!")
Giamatti is not my favorite actor but all my friends think he's terrific and I like the type he plays, a schlumpy everyman with Homer Simpson eyes. And Giamatti, who plays a character named Paul Giamatti, makes this movie. It isn't a tour de force, an Al Pacino or Cate Blanchett jaw-dropper, though I think it's meant to be (he even has roles within roles, with his character rehearsing a stage play). To some extent his willingness to succumb to the movie's simple, clever plot is one of its charms.
There are echoes of the absurd and the playful of two earlier (and better) movies, the incredibly inventive "Being John Malkovich" and the cinematically engrossing "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Both of those are written by the astonishing Charlie Kaufman. Here the writer Sophie Barthes is working almost solo since she is also directing, and if it's solid it's also short of its potential, which unfortunately is so obvious. It's a great idea. And a rather good movie.