“ Certifikation: 12 / Genre: Comedy „
Bernie is down on his luck, but then that is nothing unusual for him. In fact his whole life and livelihood is based on him not only being incredibly unlucky but also, strangely enough, exuding some kind of strange bad luck aura that infects those around him.
He is a 'Cooler', someone employed by a casino to 'cool down' the winning streak of someone who seems to be on a roll. Shelly (Alec Baldwin) runs a Las Vegas casino and uses Bernie (William H Macy) to stop these players from ruining his business and maximise profits for his bosses. This seems to work as Bernie's bad luck always seems to rub off on someone who sits next to him, preventing any real big winners in the casino.
Bernie may not be exactly happy but with his bad luck he never expected to be able to do anything. At least Shelly is a friend, looks after him well and pays him a wage for not really doing anything at all.
When Bernie meets Natalie (Maria Bello), a waitress in the casino, he takes a liking to her immediately. He doesn't expect anything to happen when he talks to her, nothing ever goes right for him, so when they seem to hit it off and she appears to really like him Bernie is more than a little surprised.
Will this stroke of good luck for a change transform his whole life? And if it does how will it affect his work?
The Cooler is a film with a difference. I guess it could be categorised as a thriller but it is only that by default. It is more of a character study of the downtrodden loser that is Bernie. Played by the wonderful William H. Macy, a man who is ideally suited for the role. Macy has cornered the market in this kind of role (see Edmund or even the comedy Wild Hogs). He has an almost permanent hang dog expression that makes you immediately see that Bernie never expects anything except the worse to happen to him.
This is the story of a man who maybe, just maybe, has found a way out of his miserable existence; a way to break the bad luck aura that surrounds him abut may not be able to get the confidence to grab his chance with both hands while it is there!
The Cooler is superbly cast because it is full of actors, by that I mean people who are generally better known for their acting ability rather than their life of the screen. Alec Baldwin may have been a personality, as opposed to an actor once, but ever since he stopped being a star he has turned out to be a damn fine actor, something I never would have expected at all.
Maria Bello, has always looked the part of a star but has also been quite willing to take roles that are not 'beautiful' women. Here she does the same again. Natalie is no ugly duckling but her life and career don't give her the chance to be a stunner. She plays Natalie as a girl who does what she has to to survive and if that means letting a casino customer pat her ass every now and again she can put up with it. The fact that you can tell this about her says a lot about her acting ability. You read more into Natalie because of Bello, rather than her just doing what is needed for the part. She manages to go from light comedy to drama with ease here.
The up and coming Shawn Hatosy (who plays Mikey, Bernie's son from a previous relationship) is also superb. He doesn't have abig part but his appearance is vital to the story arc.
Both Bello and Hatosy add a dramatic tension to their scenes and with a secondary cast of their ability it takes some doing to give a performance that isn't upstaged by them. Macy though does manage this, and with ease.
Bernie is a Macy character to a tee, it is one of those times that you can truly believe that the character was written for him (whether it was I don't know). I don't think that anyone else could have played Bernie (much the same as he is the only one who could have played Edmund as well in the film of the same name).
Macy captivates you and, along with a script that is pulsating with vigour and energy, makes you feel sorry for Bernie and just will him on to get that success he dearly desires.
The Cooler also departs from Hollywood expectations. Being a smaller movie and having a star who isn't an image orientated actor means that the film can delve into the depths, to go where no mainstream movie would go. Whether this will happen in The Cooler is for you to find out, should you wish to watch it, but I will guarantee that you will never be certain what will happen next, or how it will eventually end, something that you cannot say about many big movies!
It goes to show that so often the very films you never hear about in fact end up being some of the best you'll see. Wayne Kramer's The Cooler, an independent film about live on the Las Vegas strip, adds considerable fuel to this fire.
Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) is a down on his luck loser - he is a "cooler" at a prestigious Vegas casino. He is known for bringing bad luck to anyone who is around him, so he parades around the tables, ensuring that the casino always has the odds in its favour. However, after a seeming chance encounter with hooker Natalie Belisario (Maria Bello), who actually appears to like him, he's not so flash at keeping the casino in the green, and he only appears to bring good luck to the punters. It's an existential drama that uses the casino to foreground Lootz's own state of mind, and whilst this could very well have reformed as some sort of a hokey gimmick, it mostly works.
Occasionally his "abilities" are exaggerated to the point where it is no longer a simply quirk, and this is a bit cumbersome considering the psychological plausibility of the rest of the story, which includes drug overdoses, faked pregnancies, and assassinations.
Although it's always fantastic to see Macy in winning form, the film ultimately belongs to Alec Baldwin, who plays shifty, hot headed casino manager Shelly Kaplow. Baldwin was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, which is layered and nuanced, presenting a character that holds human life in little regard, yet is psychologically complex, rife with initimacy issues which he hides with an excess of work and extra curricular indulgence.
Slick Las Vegas films are a dime a dozen, and whilst the film does share a wealth of narrative similarities to Martin Scorsese's masterpiece Casino, it is a little more intimate and less epic in scope than that film. Ultimately, this is a love story foregrounded by the problems that this couple encounter - a film that muses on the notion of luck, with numerous down and out character pitted against those who seem to have luck, and those who intend to control the luck.
Wayne Kramer may not be a particularly experienced director, but he knows how to shoot a film for sure. This is a kinetic, slick film that reminds one of numerous hokey Vegas films, but is self-reflexively imbued with the smarts that these films lack. The Cooler is mostly focused, only occasionally a little uneven, and magnificently acted by a superb ensemble cast, with minor appearances from (at the time) burgeoning actors like Ron Livingstone.
I must admit that this film completely passed me by when it was first released in 2003 it wasnt until recently that seeing it highlighted on a DVD rental website that I decided to take a look. It was a gamble since the only thing that attracted me to the movie was the presence of William H. Macy one of the most underrated actors of recent years who consistently puts in great performance in whatever film hes in
think of Fargo and Boogie Nights.
The Cooler is the kind of film that would not have been out of place if it had been made in the 40s 50s in the trademark black and white of early film noire. Based in the sleazy world of the Las Vegas gambling scene populated by small time gangsters and down on their luck drifters it would have been perfect for that genre.
This is not one of those other Las Vegas films populated by the likes of the Sinatra led rat-pack characters or the sophisticated ultra cool criminals of Oceans Eleven, The Cooler is a much smaller more parochial affair in fact in the 50s I suspect this would have been a B-movie. However in modern day Hollywood where the storylines have been subsumed to the overall style of the film even such simple stories are given the big budget treatment. Given all this and taking in to account that The Cooler is presented as a comedy, a very dark comedy (probably too dark for its own good) the whole project could have been an expensive mistake destined to find its place in the mediocrity of the late night TV listings. What saves the film from this cinematic graveyard is the standard of the central performances by Macy, Alec Baldwin and Natalie Belisario, with a creditable cameo from the ever-watchable Paul Sorvino better known for films such as Goodfellas.
Bernie Lootz (Macy) is a born loser, a man so unlucky that he not only affects himself but those around him. However in the cutthroat world of the Las Vegas casinos his bad fortune is put to good use because Bernie is employed by the Golden Shangri La casino as a cooler. A coolers role is to watch the tables see if anyone is starting to win too much and then by merely going over and standing next to the table his phenomenal bad luck will cause the winning streak cool and come to an end.
Bernie is resigned to his fate, he truly believes that his misfortune in gaming also extends to his personal life and a broken relationship and an empty life goes some way to prove this. Hes not unhappy with his lot, he earns an income the casino treats him well and he feels an important part of the set up but at the same time he looks forward to a day when hes put enough money aside to leave the dingy world of gambling behind him. While working his inverted Midas touch on the casinos gambling tables he stands up for Natalie (Bello) a pretty thirty-something cocktail waitress who is being harassed by one of the customers. The two hit it off and unlikely, as it may seem they start a relationship.
Meanwhile the Casinos boss Shelly Kaplov (Baldwin) is under pressure by other interested business partners to modernise. Shelly is proud of running an old-fashioned casino including old fashioned entertainers such as the has been crooner Buddy Stafford (Sorvino actually doing some singing!) but although the Casinos profits are good Shelly comes increasingly under pressure to change and update.
Things come to head when the rejuvenated Bernie now very much in love with Natalie loses his talent for cooling the tables and in fact starts to spread good luck amongst the punters! Shelly realises this could spell disaster and decides that he has to take action. Events take a turn for the worst for Bernie and the appearance of his wayward estranged son adds to his troubles leaving him with a real dilemma, his love for Natalie being severely tested.
CAST AND PERFORMANCES
William H. Macy .... Bernie Lootz
Alec Baldwin .... Shelly Kaplow
Maria Bello .... Natalie Belisario
Shawn Hatosy .... Mikey
Ron Livingston .... Larry Sokolov
Paul Sorvino .... Buddy Stafford
Directed by Wayne Kramer, written by Frank Hannah and Wayne Kramer
The Cooler is a weird mix of sordid melodrama, violent gangster action, love story and dark comedy. The comedic element comes from the central performance of Macy, his hangdog expression his bewilderment at the sexual interest that Natalie shows for him and the general incongruity of the situations. The film concentrates in contrasting the superficially glitzy casinos with the less salubrious world of the dingy apartment and rented rooms of the people who make a meagre living in the town servicing other peoples needs. It seems that the irony central to the gambling capital of the world is that for most people, living there means that they have become proverbial losers in the lottery of life. Natalie just like Bernie carries a lot of baggage, once maybe she dreamt of success as a Las Vegas show girl now older and more world weary she is stuck serving tables in one of the less glamorous casinos with little chance of making anything better of her life.
This portrayal of Las Vegas is nothing new and has become rather clichéd of late but in this film it is given more poignancy by the sensitive relationship between Bernie and Natalie.
In this Vegas urban jungle Shelly Kaplow is certainly the alpha male, when threatened he reacts and it invariably involves violence. There are some unexpected and somewhat shocking moments in the film certainly more than expected for a film that is billed as a comedy. Baldwin is excellent as the irascible and unpredictable Shelly. He has a fantastic presence on the screen and exudes menace in everything he does. His overwhelming character is a great foil for the understated performance that is the trademark for Macy and the two complement each other well. There is also an added depth to the story with the relationship between the two. Shelly is worried about losing Bernie for monetary reasons but you suspect that there is also a deeper attachment to Bernie almost friendship despite their turbulent history, which we discover gradually through the course of the movie.
Baldwin gives a bravura performance as the old-fashioned casino boss more used to dealing with the Mafia who see the gambling industry as an extension of their illegal business rather than the big city corporations who promote the casinos as family entertainment complexes. Shelly is cornered, he realises he faces extinction and he reacts the only way he knows, banging heads and breaking a few bones or worse if needed. In the end though despite the cold blooded retribution that Shelly dishes out to anyone who stands in his way we never really turn against him as a character. Baldwin manages to show the aggression at the heart of Shelly but this is tempered by insecurity and fallibility, which makes him endearing even in his worst moments.
The improbability of the story is kept at bay by the tenderness and emotional impact of the relationships and the shocking violence. Overall the film is well scripted containing enough surprises to keep the story interesting. The director Wayne Kramer who also collaborated on the script keeps a tight grip on the action and draws out some good performances all round.
The film rather loses its way toward the conclusion as it lingers and reinforces a tad too much the central premise that Bernie is the personification of bad luck. The gathering of ever more improbable events did test my patience. However in spite of this I did enjoy the film, primarily it has to be said for the interaction of the talented cast but also overall it just about succeeded as a satisfactory (fairy) tale well told.
Lenght: 1 hour 38 minutes (approx)
© Mauri 2006