Paul Giamatti plays Paul Giamatti; an actor who is appearing in a stage production of UNCLE VANYA. He finds the role so demanding that it's taking a physical toll on him and making him an emotional wreck. After seeing the aforementioned "Soul Storage" advert in "The New Yorker" magazine, Paul ends up in the futuristic office of Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn) who offers a medical procedure which can remove and store the soul. Most souls, when removed from the body, resemble black or gray lumps and are stored in glass canisters in a storage facility. After much self-debate, Giamatti agrees to have his soul removed; the actor is nonplussed to discover his soul resembled a tiny chick pea. Dr. Flintstein assures him that the size and appearance of a soul has no bearing on its quality. After his soul is removed, Giamatti finds himself feeling much "lighter" and is no longer tortured by mental and emotional stress resulting from his role as Uncle Vanya. However, his acting suffers drastically.
Meanwhile, it is revealed that there is a black market in stolen souls. Shady Russian soul traffickers obtain requested types of souls for a price. They utilize a stable of "mules": women who have had their own souls removed and therefore can have stolen souls implanted inside them so they may carry them across international boundaries to deliver the hot souls to the customer. One such "mule" named Nina (Dina Korzun) manages to steal Giamatti's soul for her Russian boss' wife who happens to be an actress (a bad one) in a Russian soap opera. The wife Sveta (Katheryn Winnick) thinks she has purchased the soul of Al Pacino but sadly that soul was unavailable; the only "good actor" soul Nina could find was Paul Giamatti's. Nina uploads Giamatti's soul and takes it to Russia where Sveta uses it to become a fine actress. Meanwhile, Paul Giamatti is concerned about how he has been behaving without his soul and wants it back. When Giamatti goes to retrieve his soul, he finds the storage box empty. Dr. Flintstein has some bad news; Giamatti's soul seems to have been "misplaced". While they do their best to recover it (it's probably been shipped to New Jersey for storage, Flintstein suggests), Giamatti has the soul of a Russian poet uploaded into him for the meantime. Having carried Giamatti's soul, Nina finds herself strangely drawn to watch Giamatti's films and, through a serious of events, Nina and Paul meet up and the soul theft is revealed. Giamatti insists that Nina take him to her boss in Russia to get his soul back. This they do but convincing Sveta not only that the soul she possesses ISN'T Al Pacino's but also that she should give it back to Giamatti is not going to be an easy sell.
COLD SOULS is indeed a very interesting film. While it certainly is worth watching, I cannot say that I actually enjoyed it overmuch. In fact, the film is very downbeat which surprised me. I expected more of a lighter feel to the film but obviously its soul is weighing the film down because at times it seems rather heavy going. This is not necessarily a criticism; only a misconception on my part about what the movie would be like. The film is deliberately shot in cold, bleak tones; especially in the Russian winter scenes. After all, the film is called COLD SOULS so its probably silly to expect much warmth from it. But don't get me wrong. The film is actually funny; but the humour arises from the situations and there are no belly laughs. There is a wry humour going on which necessarily comes from a rather dark place. Again, this is not a bad thing. The performances are all uniformly excellent. Giamatti, Korzun and Strathairn are wonderfully good as are Emily Watson as Giamatti's wife and Katheryn Winnick as the vacuous soap actress who suddenly obtains real talent and refuses to relinquish it. Barthe's script is very detailed and thought out; she takes the "soul storage" concept to its logical conclusion and gives us an intricate entire new world to play in. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of "play" going on but quite a lot of angst and misery. Usually, I love that kinda stuff but even I, in my morbid depths, found it to be a bit of a downer. All in all, COLD SOULS is definitely worth a look but only when forearmed with the above warning. The film has been criticized by some for being a little too reminiscent of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH; it is true that, while certainly not a ripoff of that earlier film, COLD SOULS did remind me quite a lot of it. Of course, MALKOVICH was much more light-hearted than SOULS and therefore probably much more enjoyable. However, I think the "ripoff" charge is too extreme. There are definite similarities but both are very different films. And yes, folks, if you are finding yourself weighed down by your own souls, the "Soul Storage" company is in fact an actual real company and you can have your soul stored by clicking here for the company's website. Go over and get happy.