Cold Souls Review

Who better to portray someone with a soul the size of a chickpea than Paul Giamatti? A man whose obsession with anger, spite and conformity to his own reality has steered some of his finest performances. Cold Souls feels like a continuation of the narcissism of Miles from Sideways. He wasn’t as soulless, but certainly just as driven and running on empty. There are parts of American Splendor chipping away at the isolation and glum colour tones used throughout this Sophie Barthes piece. What an undersung piece it is too, with its commentary on Anton Chekov bleeding through into a piece that looks to rip into Giamatti’s neurosis and talent as he adapts his best character of all, himself.

The paralysis of a mid-life crisis that pushes further and further toward the later years of life is a driving force for Cold Souls. Although the contrast between Cold Souls, the Giamatti performance at the heart of it and Chekov’s Uncle Vanya may be too close to consider any grand differences, Cold Souls is a grand film for those wanting a disturbing look at the fleeting life of a creative that doesn’t know what to do with his life or his future. It is not as if there aren’t choices for him to make, but the choice this amalgamation of a woeful Giamatti leads him down the path of removing his soul and, by extension, his passion. It would be easy to write off this Barthes-directed piece as a keen example of the soul providing clarity and focus in the trying times, and how audiences may underappreciate that, but Cold Souls is more than that.

It does display those smart, lingering topics yet at the same time has some nice bits of tension that form the selling, loss and gain of a soul. To tire out the conflict of the soul is to run out of steam on life’s long and winding road, but Cold Souls gets to grips with that and the specific and sometimes limited primitiveness of its philosophical portions. Much of Cold Souls is naturally dependent on Giamatti and supporting performer Dina Korzun. Both are great in their respective roles, one the catalyst, the other the reason for the story. Korzun and Giamatti riff off of one another in an inspiring selection of scenes that depend both on the strength of Giamatti as an adaptable person, like a moving rendition of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, but also for the surprisingly accepted notions such wild science-fiction can offer.

As much a discussion of Uncle Vanya and a projection of the common themes around it as it is the continuation of a frustrated man. His frustrations are obvious though. The man he tries to tell his troubles to is busy cracking nuts and causing distractions, Giamatti is the cause of his own issues and instead of working them through opts to have a transference of the soul. David Straithrain and Emily Watson make for exceptional supporting performers to those ends. To make good art there is an obvious need for the soul, for passion and the two are linked together so clearly and closely. Could Souls fails to make note of that, and by extension, fails to really grip its message. Despite how entertaining and interesting a piece it is for Giamatti, it is bogged down in its inability to break the chains of the independent drama.

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