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Movie Review

Cold Souls

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Cold Souls
If only Charlie Kaufman's scripts—like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—didn't exist, Cold Souls would be original. Yet this intelligent, darkly comic film by writer-director Sophie Barthes has something uniquely great going for it: Paul Giamatti playing a semifictional version of himself as a tortured artist. Agonizing over his latest role in Uncle Vanya, Giamatti searches for relief, which he finds in the way of an unorthodox high-tech service that removes and stores one's soul. The elective procedure clears the mind of guilt, emotional conflict, and a moral compass. Bernie Madoff would have surely been a client, had this service existed.

Swayed by the soul-sucking company's owner, Dr. Flintstein, played by the always-compelling David Strathairn, Giamatti signs on, leaving his soul in a jar and his emotional strife behind. The problem is that, like any talented artist, Giamatti needs his soul to achieve high art. Without it, he's a B-level actor unable to dig deep into his characters, and his career will soon be over. Furthermore, his marriage to his wife, Claire (Emily Watson), is negatively impacted by his drastic personality change and secretive behavior.

Giamatti tries to get his soul back, which is far more complicated than he thought it would be. First, his soul is missing out of the Manhattan locker it was stored in. Turns out it's been stolen by Russian mule Nina (Dina Korzun), who illegally transports souls for the black market. Meanwhile, Flintstein offers Giamatti a borrowed soul from the company's catalog so the actor can survive his Vanya run. He reluctantly agrees, taking on the emotional essence of an anonymous Russian poet, who it turns out is not a poet at all but a cash-strapped Russian factory worker. From there, Giamatti literally goes soul-searching, going to St. Petersburg to track down the mysterious factory worker and his own stolen soul.

Giamatti gives a hilarious deadpan performance. Not since his portrayal of eccentric comic-book writer Harvey Pekar in American Splendor have we seen him embracing such dark comedy. Korzun gives an intense—dare I say soulful—performance as a rogue woman with a conscience. Watson is fine but underused, given her talents. In a supporting role, Katheryn Winnick is thoroughly entertaining as Nina's mobster boss' spoiled wife, Sveta, a Russian soap star who seeks the soul of a famous American actor—preferably Robert De Niro—to boost her craft.

Genre: Dark comedy
Written and directed by: Sophie Barthes
Starring: Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson

"Cold Souls" plays the Los Angeles Film Festival Thu., June 25, 7 p.m., at Mann Festival Theatre and Sat., June 27, 1:30 p.m., at the Regent. www.lafilmfest.com

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