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I Should Be So Lucky!
The Cooler  (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
The Cooler  (DVD)
Date: 07/03/06, updated on 07/03/06 (122 review reads)
Advantages: Well acted, well defined characters
Disadvantages: Weak story
I must admit that this film completely passed me by when it was first released in 2003 it wasn’t 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 he’s 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 40’s 50’s 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 ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, ‘The Cooler’ is a much smaller more parochial affair in fact in the 50’s 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 cooler’s 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. He’s 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 he’s put enough money aside to leave the dingy world of gambling behind him. While working his inverted ‘Midas’ touch on the casino’s 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 Casino’s 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 Casino’s 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 people’s 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 casino’s 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
Summary: Improbable drama of long term loser set in sleazy Las Vegas