The Cooler

on November 26, 2003 by Annlee Ellingson
In Vegas, the house always wins--especially when the house has employed Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy), a man whose luck is so bad that it rubs off everyone around him. In the old-school casino Shangri-La, this makes him a valuable staffer as what's called a cooler. His talent is gracefully displayed in “The Cooler's” opening scene as the camera weaves fluidly through the casino floor in Bernie's wake. A simple brush of his hand against the roulette wheel or quiet presence as a spectator at the craps table quickly subdues a run on the house.

Bernie's luck begins the change, though, when he falls in love with cocktail waitress Natalie (Maria Bello) and, however unlikely, she with him. This does not bode well for Bernie, as he has been working off a debt to the owner of the casino, Shelly Kaplow (a menacing Alec Baldwin). Shelly, who handles cheats the old-fashioned way rather than calling in the authorities, is intent on keeping Bernie and his bad luck around. Mixed in as well are subplots involving a movement to modernize the aging Shangri-La, in a storyline critical of the current condition of the Vegas strip, and the sudden appearance of Bernie's newly married son and his very pregnant wife.

Helmer Wayne Kramer glamorizes the pastime, using fast motion at the cards and craps tables and a succession of stills to portray the games. Also vital to the classical atmosphere are a melancholy jazz score and a soundtrack that includes such favorites as “It's Almost Like Being in Love” and “My Funny Valentine.” But the film is, of course, anchored by Macy in the titular role, his singular features and consummate talent seemingly designed and destined for this very role. Starring William H Macy, Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin, Ron Livingston, Joey Fatone, Paul Sorvino, Shawn Hatosy and Estella Warren. Directed by Wayne Kramer. Written by Wayne Kramer and Frank Hannah. Produced by Sean Furst and Michael Pierce. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexuality, violence, language and some drug use. Running time: 103 min

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