Film: The Cooler (2003)

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Film:

The Cooler

Director: Wayne Kramer
Honors:
Genres:
Distributor: Lions Gate

The premise of this swinging Vegas picture is enough to carry it over its narrative rough spots. The unluckiest sap on the planet (William H. Macy) is employed as a “cooler” at a casino; his very presence can chill the hot streak of any patron on a roll. He’s valued by the old-school manager of the place, a role given a two-fisted, bourbon-swilling incarnation by Alec Baldwin. Macy means to quit, but then he falls for a waitress (the excellent Maria Bello, from Permanent Midnight)—might his luck be changing? The subplots are pretty much a mess, but the…

Reviews

Amazon.com

The premise of this swinging Vegas picture is enough to carry it over its narrative rough spots. The unluckiest sap on the planet (William H. Macy) is employed as a “cooler” at a casino; his very presence can chill the hot streak of any patron on a roll. He’s valued by the old-school manager of the place, a role given a two-fisted, bourbon-swilling incarnation by Alec Baldwin. Macy means to quit, but then he falls for a waitress (the excellent Maria Bello, from Permanent Midnight)—might his luck be changing? The subplots are pretty much a mess, but the frank sex scenes between Macy and Bello give the movie a truly offbeat feel. The tawdry air of a second-rate casino is also nicely done: This is not the new family-friendly Las Vegas, but a tough place of superstitions, sinister back rooms, and shabby motels. The characters are perfectly at home. —Robert Horton

Barnes and Noble

One of last year’s most talked-about movies, this modest independent production crams more entertainment value into 100 minutes than most major-studio “blockbusters.” The story, which fuses crime drama and black comedy, unfolds against the faux-glam backdrop of contemporary Las Vegas, the erstwhile “Sin City” gradually transformed into a family-friendly tourist spot. Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) manages a shabby remnant of the town’s Mob-controlled past, the Shangri-La casino, where old-school high rollers feel right at home. Whenever a player starts to get hot, Shelly deploys his secret weapon, a “cooler” named Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy). Bernie is a lifelong loser whose bad luck is actually contagious—a casual brush to the shoulder is usually enough to break a winning streak. But when Bernie inaugurates an improbable affair with sympathetic cocktail waitress Natalie (Maria Bello), his own luck begins to turn and his talent for “cooling” diminishes—which makes Shelly very, very angry. The key to The Cooler’s success is casting: Few actors play losers better than Macy. (Think Fargo and Boogie Nights.) Also, Bello projects a mature worldliness perfect for Natalie, and former leading man Baldwin—not exactly known for being warm and fuzzy—perfectly combines the arrogance, cruelty, and misplaced loyalty that makes Shelly such a compelling jerk. The minor roles are filled just as carefully, with Paul Sorvino registering solidly as a washed-up lounge singer and Shawn Hatosy scoring as Bernie’s dishonest, disrespectful son. Deconstructing The Cooler scene by scene, character by character, you’d find very little that was new or striking. But from these common building blocks director Wayne Kramer erects a shining edifice that stands head and shoulders above most other big-screen entertainment these days. Like the Shangri-La’s staff and clientele, Kramer has disdained the new and glitzy, using traditional storytelling methods to put over a genuinely engaging yarn. Ed Hulse

Related Works

Album:The Cooler: Music from the Film

The Cooler: Music from the Film

Mark Isham

First-time director Wayne Kramer’s indie feature about a hapless Vegas casino employee whose preternatural bad luck turns him into a professional “cooler” for gambling patrons whose own fortunes are soaring features an outstanding ensemble cast and this jazzy, evocative score by Mark Isham. While the composer isn’t opposed to employing the occasional Vegas—and R&B—musical cliché to good effect, his cues here are largely mature and span a surprising range of emotional moods. Seasoning Isham’s compelling, introspective instrumentals are a handful of expected Vegas…

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