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Sep 21, 2009

Fletch's Film Review: Cold Souls and The Informant!

No films in my recent viewing history have smacked of their predecessors more than Cold Souls and The Informant!

Cold Souls is the easy and obvious one; it's 11-word plot summary alone (emotionally burdened actor learns he can store his soul; zaniness ensues) reeks so much of Charlie Kauffman that it might well be be titled Synecdoche, New York II (or would that be Being John Malkovich Again...or Eternal Moonshine of the Spotless Soul)? A glance at writer/director Sophie Barthes' resume indicates that this was no happy accident, either; though Souls is her first feature, she has two shorts under her belt, the most recent of which is titled Happiness. Care to take a guess at what that one's about? Yup, it's another high-concept piece, about factory workers at a condom factory and the question "what if you could buy happiness in a box?" *Groan*

For better or worse, Cold Souls isn't a total ripoff of Kauffman's work (or the work of similar outsiders Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry); her feature debut lacks the playfulness and visual creativity of those earlier works in favor of a more serious tone with a dry laugh thrown in here and there. There seems to be less of a necessity for Paul Giamatti to be playing "Paul Giamatti" here as there was for Malkovich to be playing a version of himself, but that doesn't mean it's not used to its advantage here and there. That said, much of the Kauffman comparisons might have been eschewed had Giamatti simply been playing "John Cooper" or some other non-real person. The bigger issue is that Barthes seems to want to have her cake and eat it, too: she wants to mock the faux-depth of actors, acting, and the heavy burden of the soul, all the while maintaining a haze of importance and abstract, artsy importance over the proceedings. An entertaining if ultimately frustrating film, though nonetheless impressive for a feature debut.

Narrative-wise, The Informant! has little in common with 1999's Election, but I can't help but feel Alexander Payne's footprint all over it. Middle America setting? Check. Dated feel? Check; this is a two-sided coin, however - the film's event take place in the early 90s, which might've absolved director Steven Sodebergh of delivering that feel, but he clearly amped up with Marvin Hamlisch's Burt Bacharach-esque soundtrack (it could be swapped with the Austin Powers one and no one would be the wiser) and 70s game show-y credit font. Tale of greed and dirty tactics? Check. Non-stop, stream-of-thought narration by our protagonist? Check. I'm disappointed a role for Matthew Broderick wasn't found, though a bone was clearly thrown to me with the casting of Back to the Future standout Tom Wilson (Biff and all iterations of the Tannen family, a group of roles he should have won an honorary Oscar for). But I digress...

Soderbergh clearly delighted in dressing up and frumping down his leading man in dorky glasses, news anchor hair and Jerry Garcia ties in telling the approximately true story of whistle blower Mark Whitacre (in a (500) Days of Summer-like move, the audience is given a snarky "So there" after being told in a pre-credits disclaimer that, despite the film's attempts at accuracy, some names have been changed blah blah blah). By the same token, Damon dove right into his role, gaining the obligatory weight that's apparently needed to play a Midwestern convincingly, but more importantly ditching any preconceived notions you might have had of him, and I don't mean just the "cute nose" that Mrs. Fletch likes so much. Between the hair, the nose, the weight, the accent and the inflection, you might never guess that this was either that smartass south Boston whiz kid or the sneaky strong silent-type spy we saw in three Bourne films.

So it's apparent that each cared enough about the character to spend ample time paying attention to detail; it's just a shame that, for whatever reason, they seem to have walked away with such disdain for him (and his actions) that he never escalates beyond caricature. Whitacre's a cartoon buffoon - a mixture of Bugs Bunny and Foghorn Leghorn, displaying the genius of the former simultaneously with the rube nature of the latter. We're given the task of deciding what to believe: was Whitacre eight steps ahead of everyone or just making it up as he went along, digging a hole so deep that he gained some sort of imperceptibility? But when the director is too busy making fun of his lead to make him a real person, am I really supposed to care?

A nonstop minor-chuckle fest with boundless energy and a broken record feel to it.

Both films:

Fletch's Film Rating:
"You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you.""
Shaky Cam Rating (details):LAMBScore:
Large Association of Movie BlogsLarge Association of Movie Blogs

2 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Cold Souls and The Informant!"

Farzan said...

WOW, that Cold Souls poster is very impressive. I wanted to see The Informant this week, but just couldn't get myself to go and see it. I only laughed one or two times when I first saw the trailer for it. I didn't even laugh once when I saw it again. So I'm not sure yet. Its gotten solid reviews, but the film just screams rental. I think I might wait for the Blu Ray.

Mrs Fletch said...

For both of these movies, the posters are much more interesting than seeing the actual movie.