The Cooler Review
The Cooler - a place where Steve McQueen got sent to a lot, the place Americans keep their ice cubes, and now William H. Macy as Bernie Lootz, the unluckiest man on the planet. A man so unlucky his mere presence can turn a winner into a loser, a hot gaming table into a frigid one. Bernie is so good at being unlucky he works in the Shangri-La casino to bring bad luck to the gamblers. The Shangri-La is an old fashioned casino, run in the old fashioned way by Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin). If you are caught cheating don't expect a call to the cops, expect a call to the casualty department. Shelly looks disdainfully at the hotels on the Strip, feeling they have sold their soul, and whored themselves for the sake of tourists. He longs for the good old days, and is adamant that as long as he is in charge, the old ways are here to stay. Bernie has seven days left working as a “cooler” for Shelly in order to pay off a gambling debt, and then he plans to leave. Things take an unexpected twist however when Bernie meets a cocktail waitress, Natalie (Maria Bello), and slowly develops an intimate relationship with her. For the first time in his life Bernie is happy, is his luck finally set to change? He plans to leave Vegas with Natalie, but Shelly doesn't want to lose his cooler. Just how far will he go to keep him?
The casinos of Las Vegas have been the settings for many movies, from comedies to dramas, and of course mafia flicks. Some have been outstanding (Casino) and some have been turgid (Rat Race). The Cooler is neither, but does lean toward the former rather than the latter. Superficially it deals with luck and destiny, but at its heart it is a love story. It says, in a novel and interesting way, that all the songs are right. Love lifts us up where we belong. Love is a many splendid thing. All you need is love. In this respect the story is too simplistic to be a classic, but what lifts the movie above the average and into the very good region is the acting. All three leads put in splendid performances. Maria Bello is, in the words of Bernie's son “a fine pair of tits and ass”, and shows wonderful depth in a classic tart with a heart role. William H. Macy plays a role he was born for with great aplomb. Indeed the “hapless loser” is in danger of getting him typecast he does it so well. He exudes bad luck in his appearance, his mannerisms, and his lived in face. His relationship with Natalie is made honest and believable by the performance of both actors. Towering above them both however is Alec Baldwin who, of course, received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, for his portrayal of the lonely and malignant mobster who realises his time has come, but resists change with every fibre of his being. Baldwin burns up the screen, and his whispering malevolence is truly sphincter loosening.