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The International Writers Magazine
: Film Reviews: The Cooler

The Cooler
Dir Wayne Kramer
Starring William H Macy, Maria Bello, Alec Balwin Paul Sorvino,

Sometimes, when all there is at the cinema is a choice between blockbuster sequel or teen flicks, it just a surprise when something turns up that is mature, witty and clearly aimed at an audience that likes to reflect and think about things than just be thrilled or amused. Although The Cooler has done the rounds of multiplexs in Australia and South Africa before getting around to opening in the UK, it has arrived at a perfect time. Everyone who is going to see Day After Tomorrow has already done so and half-term is over so Harry Potter is no competition and The Whole Ten Yards wasn’t funny when it was nine yards, so quite why they’d bother I don’t know.

The Cooler is one of those great concept movies. Find the worlds biggest loser with bad luck so contagious that he brings everyone misfortune and set him to work in a Casino in Las Vegas, just standing next to people having a good run of luck. Apparently Coolers have been used for years to minimise ‘risk’ in the casinos and William H Macy was born to play this role. He, like Steven Buscemi, have the bad luck faces that provide a lucrative career for both of them.

There are however layers upon layers in this gem of a movie that adds much to the ‘gambling’ movie genre and Las Vegas movies in particular. It feels more David Mamet in it’s undercurrent of fear and self-loathing and indeed neatly reverses William H Macy and Alex Baldwin from their roles in the wonderful State and Main a Mamet directed piece about film-making.

Alex Baldwin gets his teeth into a small role that he has stamped a great deal of authority on. He successfully uses his big personality to be very authentically one of the old school Casino bosses in Las Vegas and as Shelly Kaplow only slowly reveal his menacing and violent side as the story progresses. If you wonder how he has kept his job for 16 years at the beginning, you understand very well when he breaks arms and legs and kicks pregnant women in the stomach. You’ll understand why people and Bernie in particular are afraid of him.

William H Macy as Bernie Lootz, loser and cooler is no cipher and Macy plays his lead role for all its worth, truly getting under the skin of a man destined to have no luck with life, love or gambling, living along in a motel, just biding his time to get out from under the grip Shelly has on him ( the extent of which is only gradually revealed as the film progresses). He is a loser extreme until a waitress Maria Bello (ex ER ) falls for him.

Clearly, we as audience are just as wary, as Bernie is sceptical. We, like he, can’t believe an attractive woman like this would ever fall for a loser like him and sure enough, much later in the film the truth is revealed, but not before the love a good woman has completely transformed Bernie’s attitude to life. Under the heady influence of love, he is no longer 'The Cooler' but 'Jackpotman' who just has to be in the Casino and everyone starts winning. Bernie finds himself smiling probably for the first time in his life, even his missing cat returns. Love can be very powerful in the hands of a man who never experienced it before. Maria Bello is an inspiration and grabs this pivotal role with both hands. She makes us believe she is in love.

Shelly isn’t about to let that happen for long and he’s got problems of his own as the ‘partners’, read organised crime, want a PHD guy in there to run things and increase profits. Shelly sets out to ruin Bernies’s life again to restore his run of bad luck and get his ‘Cooler’ back. But the course of true love (even bought and paid for love) isn’t smooth and love, once turned on, can’t be turned off so easy.

Add to the main story a long lost gambling son with a very pregnant wife; an old crooner (Paul Sorvino) with a heroin habit, there is more than enough going on this film. It is extraordinarily human, very funny, sad, savage, sexually charged and engaging in a way a hundred big budget movies aren’t and if you haven’t seen The Cooler and these brilliant performances, then seek it out.

Sam North © June 19th 2004

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