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Cold Souls

Year: 2009
Production Co: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Director: Sophie Barthes
Writer: Sophie Barthes
Cast: Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Emily Watson

I immediately warmed to this movie because of the tone it shared with my beloved Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - a fantastical, science fiction idea but with a complete absence of sliding steel doors, special effects or grandstanding. Like the offices of Lacuna Inc, the surgery that removes and cold stores human souls is like any doctor's office you'd find in the well to do enclaves of any big city.

When Paul Giamatti (playing himself) has a career crisis trying to find his character in a stage production of uncle Vanya, he responds to an ad in The New Yorker magazine to have his soul removed and stored, a process that promises to unburden clients from the emotional suffering of life and leave them with just enough to function.

At first things go swimmingly with the role but soon the wheels start falling of when he can't work up the enthusiasm to make love to his wife (Watson). Paul realises he's given too much up and wants his soul back. But the doctor (Strathairn) explains that the business operates via some shady Russian mob mules who have to transport souls to get around stringent US laws. Worse still, his soul's been stolen and taken to Russia after a double cross.

Paul travels to Russia with the strange woman we've seen glimpses of - one who turns out to be a transporter. The pair team up to discover the vacuous soap opera star wife of the mob boss has stolen Paul's soul to help her dreams of becoming a great actress, and she has no intentions of giving it back.

It's somewhat of a parable about there being no light without dark, about how if you exorcise one's demons one's angels leave too. There are some laughs but the drab, dour surroundings tend to drag your enjoyment of the film down a little, particularly during the final third. But it's an imaginative story given the best possible execution with the support of a great cast.

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