Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cold Souls

Paul Giamatti Loses Himself

By David Luhrssen
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David Straithairn doesn’t look like the devil, but the suave physician he plays in Cold Souls (out now on DVD) trades in human souls for money. Oh, of course, he does so in the name of happiness. He even evokes the old buzzword of progress. But his glib manner and apparent sincerity can’t hide the gnawing suspicion that there is something wrong with his slickly polished enterprise of placing souls in cold storage for a fee and offering soul transplants.

Paul Giamatti learns this the hard way. He plays himself in Cold Souls, an intensely flustered actor whose stage performance in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya is tying him in emotional knots. Unable to separate himself from his darkly emotional role, he decides to put his soul in storage for the run of the play. But being soulless proves no fun—he feels light, empty, hollow and bored. Regaining his soul proves harder than promised, what with the machinations of Russian mobsters who traffic in souls and American hedge funds that speculate on their value.

A mordantly amusing metaphysical comedy and social satire, Cold Souls uses the old notion of the soul as a physical organ lodged in the brain as a way of asking questions about the sources of our identity. It’s that rarity in the era of Hot Tub Time Machine—an intelligent comedy.

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