Film Review: COLD SOULS

Directed and Written by Sophie Barthes
Starring: Paul Giamattin, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson, David Strathairn
Released: November, 2009
Running Time: 1hr 41 minutes

I saw Cold Souls in a brave little theater, newly opened, in the city of Detroit. This is one of the very few theaters in the city of Detroit and its owners have made it accessible, intimate, quirky and charming. The Burton Theater’s schedule of offerings is also brave-not a typical film on the list. Twenty-five souls half-filled the tiny auditorium of a former school. The proprietor dashed around making popcorn (the butter didn’t work), taking tickets (the credit card machine didn’t work) and running the film (a fuse blew just as it was about to begin). All of this disposed me to root for the movie, much as I was rooting for this little theater and rooting for Detroit.

PLOT: Paul Giamatti, playing himself, is starring in Uncle Vanya. The role is making him miserable-he doesn’t like his performance or how he feels as he plays it. An article in The New Yorker sends him off to see scientist Dr. Flintsein (David Strathairn) in whose laboratory it is possible to extract a soul, storing it until it becomes useful to have it again. A soulless Paul Giamatti can now play the part of Uncle Vanya with less angst. Unfortunately, his performance and personality become sour, alienating and strange. His relationship with his wife (an underused Emily Watson) is also jeopardized.

Dr. Flintstein is trafficking in souls with the Russian mob. A mule (Dina Korzun) takes Giamatti’s soul out of storage, back to Russia, and it is inserted into a mobster’s soap star wife, who wants the soul of an actor to enhance her performance. Giamatti must travel with the mule to Russia to reclaim what is his.

The first third of this movie was amusing, reminding me of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But once the original idea is revealed, the movie loses much of its humor and becomes a dreary tale of mobs and mules. Paul Giamatti doesn’t help the cause by giving his all too familiar sour, bumbling, stuttering performance. Too many scenes went nowhere, seeming extraneous to the plot. Shots of Giamatti staring off into the arctic, gray chill of Russia may have reminded us of Uncle Vanya, but were grew dull pretty quickly. If a good premise is enough for you, this movie has one, but you couldn’t help but wonder what a young Woody Allen would have done with this film and with this character. Neurotic plays better than dyspeptic.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.