Directed by: Wayne Kramer
Written by:Frank Hannah, Wayne Kramer
Starring: William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello, Shawn Hatosy, Ron Livingston, Paul Sorvino
Released: May 20, 2004
Grade: A-

A mix of fantasy and reality, The Cooler is a cute little drama boasting some of the year’s finest acting performances.   Since his brilliant showing the comedy Fargo (released in 1996), I have been a fan of the underrated William H. Macy.  He’s one of those actors who you may not recognise by name but more than likely, you will have seen him before on screen.  Lovers of independent cinema will remember him from films such as Magnolia, Boogie Nights and State & Main.  More conservative filmgoers might recall his work in film including A Civil Action, Pleasantville, Jurassic Park 3, Air Force One and Seabiscuit.  The common trait in all Macy’s films is that he appears in a “supporting role”.  Never the leading man, Macy finally has his chance in The Cooler.

His character is Bernie Lootz and he works at the Shangri La Casino in Las Vegas.  His job there isn’t by choice.  He owed a lot of money to casino manager, Shelly Kaplow (Baldwin) and is working off his debt in a rather ironic mean.  You see, Bernie is a “cooler” – someone who walks around the casino rubbing bad luck onto those with a winning streak.  This may sound like a load of garbage but you’d be surprised how superstitious some people can be.  There are rumours all through Vegas that casino owners employ “coolers” but of course they never publicise or identify these people for risk of bad publicity.

Having finally worked off his liability, Bernie’s had enough and wants to leave town.  He’s given Shelly his notice and will finish up by week’s end.  Shelly know the value of Bernie to his casino – his bad luck has destroyed many successful gamblers.

Bernie’s somewhat of a loner and long separated from his wife.  He’s had a casual eye on a young cocktail waitress at the casino named Natalie (Bello) but has not the guts to act on his crush.  Sensing this, Shelly sees the attraction as a way to keep Bernie at the casino.  He pays Natalie to seduce the aging Bernie but the results are anything but what Shelly expected.  When Bernie’s luck starts to turn around, it’s effect is both hilarious and shocking.

Filmed on a small budget, The Cooler is crafty black comedy from South African director Wayne Kramer.  It may be set in Las Vegas but there isn’t a lot of razzle dazzle with the cinematography.  There’s a lot of great close ups of the cast members, a refreshingly real sex scene and on the whole, a very seedy look at Vegas culture.  On more than one occasion I saw a resemblance with Martin Scorsese’s long 1995 drama, Casino.

Macy’s performance is beautiful but its co-star Alec Baldwin who is stealing the limelight with his Oscar nominated performance.  He is one scary individual!  You have to admire his 80s wardrobe too.  In fact, the film has an overall 80s feel to it with the grainy colours, dated sets and old-style film score.

I don’t usually laugh out loud in movies so for me to do so says something about what I’m watching.  Check out The Cooler.