The Cooler

"Excellent"

The Cooler Review


They say every dog has his day... but not Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy), the unluckiest man in Vegas. He always loses, no matter what the odds. For starters, his wife divorced him, both his son and his cat ran away, the plants in his apartment are all dead, and he can never sleep because the people in the apartment next to his have loud sex every night. You'd think someone with luck this bad would never step foot inside a casino...

But one day, he does. And sure enough, it costs him everything. Bernie loses all his money and can't repay his debt to the Shangri-La casino ,owned by his friend Shelly (Alec Baldwin). Instead of killing Bernie, Shelly takes a baseball bat to his knee and forces him to work at the casino until his debt is repaid. What good does Bernie do at the casino? Well, Bernie's bad luck is contagious. With his mere presence at a poker table, he immediately turns winners into losers. "I do it by being myself," he explains. "People get next to me and their luck turns." (Shades of Intacto.)

Days before fulfilling his debt to Shelly, Bernie's luck begins to change. He meets Natalie (Maria Bello), a new cocktail waitress at the Shangri-La, and begins a relationship with her. After a night of raucous sex, Bernie falls in love. Feeling good for the first time in years, Bernie begins to pass good luck onto gamblers at the Shangri-La. As Shelly grows increasingly angry at the change of events, Bernie and Natalie must decide where to go with their relationship.

Although the Vegas backdrop gives it a more complex flavor, at its core, The Cooler is merely an unlikely love story. It's not a conventional Hollywood romance, however, because writers Frank Hannah and Wayne Kramer (who also directs) understand that love is more than just red-hot passion and steamy sex, but a process that often happens unexpectedly, and for unexpected reasons. It doesn't always occur "at first sight" like many movies like to believe. Attraction is not always what draws people together, either; sometimes, people connect with each unexpectedly, and out of grief and despair.

These human dimensions make Bernie and Natalie look as if they are real people in an actual relationship; it doesn't feel like another contrived Hollywood cliché. Even the film's villain feels like a real person. Shelly is cruel and violent, but he is not all fire and brimstone. Throughout the movie, he demonstrates strong ethics: He has a deep respect for traditions of the past and feels as if as he must remain loyal to them as he looks into the future.

Along with the crispest of screenplays, The Cooler offers some of the best performances you will see this year, and that's saying a lot since the camera is brutal in its use of close-ups. As always, William H. Macy commits to his character so wholeheartedly, you can never tell that he's acting; we fall in love with Bernie -- another one of Macy's lovable oddballs -- from the instant we see him stumble across the casino floor for the first time. Maria Bello's soul, earnestness, and million-dollar smile make her one of the most unforgettable heroines to hit the screen all year. She really cares for and respects her character, and it shows. The biggest surprise, however, is from Alec Baldwin, who has played villains in the past, but never this convincingly. Here, he loses himself in Shelly, providing the character with both a menacing evil and a subtle vulnerability. This is one of the strongest performances of Baldwin's career, loaded with emotion and ferocity.

Kramer caused quite a controversy with the nudity, which was edited to avoid the NC-17 rating. I saw the uncut version, which contains some of the most explicit sex I have encountered in mainstream cinema. While sex does have its place in the movie, Kramer takes it a little too far, and much of the candid nudity feels awkward and gratuitous.

But those are merely superficial issues. The Cooler effortlessly hides such flaws behind an enormously entertaining style and marvelous substance. It captures both the atmosphere and energy of Las Vegas while allowing its memorable characters to prowl through the slick, sophisticated environment. Because of the skillful direction and unique premise, The Cooler is the kind of movie that will stick with you long after you leave the theater.

Two commentary tracks (both oddly featuring Kramer) highlight the DVD (it's the R-rated cut, not the NC-17 version), along with a pair of making-of vignettes. Highly recommended.

Double down.



The Cooler

Facts and Figures

Run time: 101 mins

In Theaters: Friday 27th February 2004

Box Office USA: $8.2M

Budget: $32M

Distributed by: Lions Gate Films

Production compaines: Pierce/Williams Entertainment, ContentFilm

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Fresh: 131 Rotten: 40

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: William H. Macy as Bernie Lootz, as Shelly Kaplow, as Natalie Belisario, as Mikey, as Buddy Stafford, as Charlene, as Larry Sokolov, as Johnny Cappella

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him:...

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Advertisement
Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

Sing Movie Review

Sing Movie Review

The quality of the animation in this musical comedy may not be up to Pixar...

Jackie Movie Review

Jackie Movie Review

Rather than make a standard biopic about the most famous First Lady in American history,...

Split Movie Review

Split Movie Review

After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.