This is not, as you may think, a movie about big American refrigerators. No, this is a casino, mafia type of movie and it's a good'un. William H Macey plays Bernie Lootz, the titular Cooler. A “cooler” is a person who is so unlucky his very presence can make everyone loose their winning streak. Quite an asset for a casino owner, I'm sure you'll appreciate. It transpires that Bernie is working off a debt to the casino owner Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) with only six days left to work as the movie opens. Shelly tries his best to keep Bernie on but Bernie is set to leave, especially when he meets Natalie Belisario (Maria Bello). As Natalie falls in love with Bernie he looses his cooler effect and becomes a heater. Shelly decides to take matters in hand and keep his most precious asset.
The Cooler is a very good movie. It has a fantastic symmetry that makes it eminently watchable with superb acting across the board. Macey's portrayal of a total looser is utterly believable, if a little typecast. His gradual rise to happiness is remarkably smooth, subtly highlighted by directorial sleight of hand (see extras). This is counter pointed by Baldwin's simmering violence as Shelly which grows as the movie progresses. Shelly is on an opposite path to Bernie's, despite Shelly having a controlling interest in the movie. The movie hinges on this see-saw dynamic, that symmetry I mentioned earlier, which is very easy for us to observe. There is a scene in which Shelly is teaching a cheat, the old school way, not to cheat again. In it Shelly is clearly the man in charge, but by the end, Bernie, in one line, pulls back control. It is a wonderful, if violent, scene which encapsulates the whole movie.
Speaking of violence, there is plenty on offer, here. Not in the explicit vein of Casino, but enough for us to believe that Shelly will do anything to keep Bernie on side. This movie doesn't really flinch from anything and is all the better for it. There are several sex scenes shot without pretension or polish. These are refreshingly natural and surprisingly explicit (some scenes were edited for the US, possibly UK theatrical release) further grounding Bernie and Natalie's blooming relationship.
I reckon that this is a fantastic movie that handles humour, love, tension and vengeance with aplomb. The only complaint is a slight lull in the middle, but really, Cooler is good stuff indeed.
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