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

New Movies

Colossal Movie Review

Colossal Movie Review

It's rare to find a movie that so defiantly refuses to be put into a...

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

It's unlikely that Guy Ritchie could make a boring movie if he wanted to. This...

Snatched Movie Review

Snatched Movie Review

It doesn't really matter that the script for this lively action-comedy is paper thin: teaming...

Jawbone Movie Review

Jawbone Movie Review

Boxing movies aren't usually this thoughtful. Sure, there are plenty of punchy moments in the...

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) remakes the 1949 Ealing comedy classic, although it's difficult...

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Master filmmaker Ridley Scott is back to continue the story 10 years after the events...

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in...

Advertisement
Sleepless Movie Review

Sleepless Movie Review

In remaking the 2011 French thriller Sleepless Night, the filmmakers have dumbed down both the...

Unlocked Movie Review

Unlocked Movie Review

By injecting a steady sense of fun, this slick but mindless action thriller both holds...

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

A seriously impressive feature directing debut with a star-making central performance, this period British drama...

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

It was never going to be easy to match the impact of 2014's Guardians of...

The Promise Movie Review

The Promise Movie Review

The director of Hotel Rwanda, Terry George, turns to another humanitarian horror: the systematic murder...

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

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.