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The Cooler Review

By Shawn McKenzie 12/22/2003

I’ve always liked Alec Baldwin’s acting, but he hasn’t been as memorable or intense since his role in Glengarry Glen Ross.  His role in The Cooler will definitely become a high point in his artistic career.


Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) is the title character, a man with an unbelievable streak of bad luck known as a “cooler.”  His job is to stand near high rollers at the Las Vegas casino he works at, The Shangri-La, and give them bad luck with his mere presence so the house doesn’t lose too much money.  Shelly Kaplow (Baldwin) is the casino’s operator, and he doesn’t like the Disney-fication the strip has undergone.  He was the one who had hired Bernie.  Well, maybe not hired…Bernie is working off a debt he incurred six years ago (the limp Bernie has is a little reminder that Shelly gave him.)  Shelly has a few problems lately.  First, the owner Nicky “Fingers” Bonnatto (Arthur J. Nascarella) has brought in Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston), a young Harvard grad who wants to Disney-fy the Shangri-La.  Besides completely redesigning the look of the casino, Larry wants to replace the junkie veteran lounge singer Buddy Stafford (Paul Sorvino) with “the new Harry Connick Jr.,” Johnny Capella (Joey Fatone.)  This is horrible timing, because Bernie only has one week left on his debt.  Bernie plans to leave Vegas forever once his debt is through, only he has a few problems himself lately.  He has always been confident in his unluckiness, but after meeting and quickly falling in love with Natalie Belisario (Maria Bello), a new cocktail waitress at the casino, his unlucky streak seems to be waning.  He first suspects something wrong when the creamer container intended for the coffee served to him by Doris (Ellen Greene) actually had cream in it (it had always been empty before.)  Suddenly, people were winning around him instead of losing.  Also, his deadbeat son, Mikey (Shawn Hatosy), and Mikey’s pregnant girlfriend Charlene (Estella Warren), suddenly show up, wanting money to “support the baby,” which in reality was for some gambling funds.  Charlene seems to go into labor conveniently every time they need to get out of something, like a check or a debt.  Shelly is obviously very unhappy about all of this, because his cooler seems to be losing his powers, and even if he wasn’t, he was leaving anyway.  The old school casino boss goes to many devious lengths to keep his ace in his pocket and get him working again.


While this is Macy’s movie, you will remember Baldwin the most.  He plays the part of Shelly so passionately that you won’t know whether to hate him for being so cruel or applaud him for convincing you that he is so cruel.  I remember that there was one point in the movie where I could feel the theater audience’s tension with him peak.  I don’t want to give away important plot points, but it involves Charlene and a kicking (‘nuff said.)  If Baldwin doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, that will be a crime (he recently got a Golden Globe nod for the role.)


I’m not saying that Macy or the rest of the cast are bad though.  Macy’s signature role seems to be the “lovable loser,” and he pulls it off again here.  Bello, also recently nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in this film, does some of her best work here, and she looks good doing it.  The rest of the supporting cast does a fine job, with Livingston especially playing a great weasel of a character.


The Cooler was a little predictable at times, but that didn’t sway my enjoyment of the movie much.  It had an outrageously unbelievable ending, but after watching the overall theme of the movie, it was actually a rather clever and appropriate ending.  This is writer/director Wayne Kramer’s debut feature film, and he will be one to watch in the future.  See it and maybe you’ll agree with me that Baldwin might find himself on a winning awards lucky streak.


Get the soundtrack including songs by Paul Sorvino, Joey Fatone, Diana Krall, and more:

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