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Performances are rich
Qcoatl19 January 2004
The Cooler is an odd but ultimately satisfying mixture of real feelings, unexpected violence and improbable situations set against of the backdrop of a Las Vegas nearly gone from this world.

William H. Macy plays Bernie, the Cooler of the title. He is a man whose luck is so bad that it not only infects his own life, but can be rubbed off on unsuspecting gamblers at the Golden Shangri-La casino where he works. By merely touching the table where a winner is betting he can change their luck to bad, thereby cooling off their winning streak. It is in this capacity that he meets a cocktail waitress named Natalie (Maria Bello) who begins a relationship with him after he cools the luck of a customer who gets fresh with her. As the unlikely couple begin to form a strong bond, Bernie's luck begins to change. It is when Shelly (Alec Baldwin), the casino manager and boss to both Bernie and Natalie imposes his will on the situation that Bernie's newfound luck and love are tested.

Macy has spent his career playing hapless losers and hard luck characters. In Bernie, he hits the jackpot, delivering a well modulated, brave performance. Brave because he allows Bernie to be shown for what he really is, a not overly attractive, middle aged loser in both body and spirit. Macy shows us a lot of himself both literally and figuratively and it is that which brings a sense of truth to the performance.

Baldwin, who is being billed as a mere co-star is actually a major player in the story. Shelly is a character who utilizes more brute force than the usual steely-eyed verbal barrages that Baldwin excels at. But Shelly is a great character for Baldwin, a man so sure of his place in life and even in Vegas history that he will not bend under any amount of pressure. The Golden Shangri-La is, according to Shelly, the last of the old-style Vegas casinos. The proposed remodel of the casino threatens Shelly at a deep level, making him all the more inflexible. This is definitely bad news for anyone Shelly comes into contact with who would try to thwart his will in any way, including Bernie and Natalie. It is a tribute to Baldwin that the Shelly is someone the audience can never find it in their hearts to dislike completely, despite his intolerable actions.

If in the end, the improbabilities of the story overshadow the ending, it is a fairly minor consideration. This is a movie of performances more than storytelling. Macy's performance is so fine and delicate that one is hard pressed to see how difficult it must have been to do. Bello, as Natalie, shows an underlying fragility that draws the viewer to her and shows us why Bernie would love her. And Baldwin is the hurricane force wind that rages and storms through the proceedings. And it is the audience who is lucky enough to see it all.
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jedobi20 June 2004
The Cooler is worth seeing just for Alec Baldwin's performance alone. An old style casino boss, his inability and unwillingness to accept the new Vegas sends his volatile nature over the edge. Baldwin has always been an underrated actor- at the start of his career, the big studios made the mistake of trying to market him as a star, rather than as the quality actor that he is. He is also helped by working alongside another great actor, William H Macy, who can do more with a look than most can do with 6 OR 7 pages of dialogue ( See the scene when he realizes Maria Bello is still in his flat ). See this film for the acting. It's good to see that films like The Cooler and 21 Grams are doing well and being recognised - it is a triumph for acting and strong scripts as opposed to continual FX and CGI in modern cinema.
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outstanding performances in a flawed but good film
Buddy-5121 August 2004
William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin and Maria Bello give unforgettable performances in 'The Cooler,' a moody tale of high stakes gambling on the Vegas Strip. Baldwin plays Shelley Kaplow, a casino operator steeped in nostalgia who hates what has become of his beloved city and prefers to do business the old-fashioned way (i.e. breaking a leg or two or even rubbing a person out if the situation calls for it). Shelley is also so intensely superstitious that he's hired a 'cooler' to rein in any gambler who starts winning a bit too much against the house. Macy is the 'cooler,' a man named Bernie who's been a loser all his life. It is Shelley's contention that all Bernie has to do is stand next to a gambler on a hot streak and that player's luck will immediately turn cold. And it works. Bernie is like a dark cloud roaming the floor of the casino, bringing despair and depression wherever he goes. The problem for Bernie is that, although he makes a living doing this, he has virtually no self-esteem left. He truly believes that he is a bad luck charm, an impression he carries over into his personal life as well. Enter Natalie Belisario, a sweet, beautiful cocktail waitress at the casino, who is assigned by Shelley to accompany Bernie on his treks around the room. What none of them expect – least of all Bernie and Natalie - is that the two of them will wind up falling in love with each other and that this happy turnabout in Bernie's personal life will extend to the professional arena as well. Bernie's new role at work as a wandering leprechaun, dispensing good luck and fortune in his wake, is not, of course, a positive thing for business. Thus, Shelley feels compelled to step in and wrest control of the situation, any way he can.

The screenplay uses the gambling scene in Vegas as a metaphor for life. The film, written by Frank Hannah and Wayne Kramer and directed by Kramer, shows that achieving happiness is really all about taking chances, laying down our bets and going for the big score even when all the odds are against us. And nothing in the film underscores that theme more than the relationship between Bernie and Natalie. In fact, Bernie's final act is really one giant spin of the wheel that manages to pay off. After he's taken his chance and beaten the house (and not just at the craps table), he is Bad Luck incarnate no more. Yet, in many ways, the script is so heavily symbolic - so rife with contrived allegory and neatly lined-up parallelism – that it almost ends up derailing the film in the second half. On the positive side, Bernie and Natalie make a compelling romantic couple, as she attempts to build up his confidence and make him see his own self-worth. Macy and Bello do a beautiful job capturing the essence of these two lost souls who find strength in each other's weaknesses. In addition, Baldwin paints a chilling portrait of a man who is smooth and suave on the surface, yet so ruthless underneath that he will literally stop at nothing to get what he wants. The dialogue is sharp, abrasive and insightful and the insider view of casino operations is, as always, fascinating to watch. The film also captures the evolutionary struggle Vegas itself has been undergoing over the years. Shelley is like an animal facing imminent extinction, as the Vegas he yearns for – the one run by syndicate money for hardcore gamblers, truly the last outpost in a fading frontier where a fistfight or a gun battle could settle any argument – makes way for the new Vegas of glitzy mega-casinos and family-oriented Disney-esque attractions.

What undercuts the film in the second half is its falling for its own fantastical premise. The idea that one person can spread good or bad luck depending on his mood is fine for a ruse, but when the screenplay itself begins to endorse that view, the film loses both grit and credibility. The final sequences, in particular, have a feeling of desperation to them, as if the filmmakers couldn't come up with a viable ending, so they turned, quite literally, to Lady Luck to get them out of their predicament. The problem, essentially, is that 'The Cooler' starts off as a realistic drama, then wanders off into rueful fantasy. It makes the film more 'clever' in the long run, I suppose - though I, for one, would have preferred a more consistently life-like approach and a more believable resolution.

This is not to in any way denigrate the brilliant performances of the three leads or to minimize the many elements of quality that make up the film. Despite its flaws, 'The Cooler' is a compelling human drama that, if nothing else, will make you think twice before you grab all those winnings off the crap table.
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Terrific performances
rbverhoef11 February 2005
A "cooler" is a guy who stands next to you in a casino when you are having a winning streak that is suddenly interrupted. It is someone who has such a bad luck that people around him are influenced; he could be pretty important for casino bosses. The cooler here is Bernie and the face of William H. Macy is perfect for him. The casino boss is Shelly in a wonderful performance from Alec Baldwin. Soon Bernie will leave, but not before he has met and fallen in love with Natalie, played by Maria Bello (for me only known from 'Payback' and 'Coyote Ugly'), a third terrific performance. She seems to like him also and suddenly that means Bernie is lucky. This will give, unfortunately for Shelly and therefore himself as well, results on the casino floor. Things are getting complicated.

The story is pretty original and entertaining on itself. A sub-plot that deals with the idea of remodeling the casino into a more modern one, not if it is up to Shelly, gives him a reason to be annoyed and show his more cruel side. Baldwin is at best in these scenes. The performances take the film to the next level. Baldwin won an Oscar nomination and it is pretty clear why. You believe him the entire time, no matter what he does. From Macy we expect a good performance, he is one of the best character-actors out there. I was also pleasantly surprised with Bello, an Oscar nomination would not have been strange here; she is very good, even great in the scenes with Macy. In the end 'The Cooler' is a good film, becoming better through performances, entertaining all the way through.
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A good little low-key film whose weaknesses in the writing are covered up by great delivery from all involved
bob the moo19 July 2004
Bernie Lootz is a 'cooler' – a man whose very presence on a casino floor turns peoples' luck to cr*p and stops any winning streak dead in its tracks.

As such he is a very valuable asset to casino boss Shelly Kaplow, himself having enough problems of his own trying to stop his old school casino being revamped to the point of losing it's sense of class. However, with Bernie looking to leave, Shelly is eager to make him stay – not helped by waitress Natalie falling in love with Bernie and turning his jinx into universal good fortune. With the casino dropping a million plus in one day, Shelly takes action to protect what is his.

As with many viewers I suspect, I was attracted to this film by the cast and the fact that it received a few nods from the Oscars (despite being showy enough to win). The plot is based on the old casino idea of coolers being those who bring bad luck to the tables but it very much needs you to buy into the idea of luck to really enjoy this fable of lady luck – unless you get into it, it'll feel rather forced and silly at times. However the film helped me to overcome this by being very lowkey and downbeat – very much like Bernie himself the film is dog eared and lovable, not a great thing but one that is easy to get into. The film uses Las Vegas really well and it is the Las Vegas I believe in – downbeat, cruel and plastic, it is much better than the fun, breezy and slick Vegas that we are sold in CSI or in Oceans 11. The mix of romance, comedy and violence works very well – at points it was very touching, at others quite funny and then others unrelentingly brutal and downbeat. It isn't perfect of course and the writing is where the problems lie; the story did rely on the audience buying into it and at times the dialogue comes very close to corn (but just misses). The only time I felt really let down by it was the ending, which, although fitting with the spirit of the film, missed a great chance to be dark, depressing and beautiful all at the same time.

Despite the odd weakness in the material, these are almost totally covered by a superb collection of performances. Macy may be aware of typecasting but so what if he keeps getting roles like this, probably one of his best performances since Fargo. He is typically the little man who we cannot help but root for and Macy does well never to let Bernie become pathetic to the point that he loses the audience. Bello also does pretty well and even convincingly falls for Bernie even though the film offers her very little opportunity to show a real development of love there. She is pretty but not to the point where she is an unconvincing waitress and her dashed hopes are well worn by her. However the one performance that dominated the film was Baldwin who does very well in delivering a role that could easily have become caricature. At turns he is amusing, brutal, friendly and tragic and Baldwin does almost all of these with minor touches – at one point I was impressed by how well he controlled his face (eyes in particular) to convince me that here was a man who was totally lost. A great performance and one that definitely deserved his Oscar nod. Support is just as good from several well known faces; Sorvino is given little more than a cameo but the one scene he shares with Baldwin is fantastic and, unlike some of his other roles, I never saw Paulie once – his Buddy was too tragic for that ghost to linger here. Hatosy is OK even if his part of the story is not as good as the others and Nascarella will be a well known face to many due to many roles in films for Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and a few other big films.

Overall this is not a perfect film and it needs you to really buy into its fantasy world to really enjoy it but it works well and turned out to be an enjoyable, low key and atmospheric little love story that was never brilliant at any one thing but managed to be touching, brutal, funny and, ultimately, quite satisfying even if my darker side wanted an ending with more punch.
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Brilliant Fable
Maxsa29 October 2004
Wonderfully acted modern day fable of love luck ego venality and redemption. Baldwin and Macy are their brilliant opaque selves. The sex scenes are realistic. The director never gets in the way of the linear narrative and the A, B and C stories intertwine like rope. The camera loves Macy as it has in every single frame he's ever filled. Baldwin slips into his character like legs into stockings, Maria Bello proves beyond her role in PAYBACK that she can play in the Bigs and all the secondary character acting is seamless. A film more than a movie. A sleeper hit to me. You'll love it or hate it.
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Oddly compelling story of luck and love
mstomaso13 March 2006
William Macy's Bernie Loots is a full-time loser. His luck is so bad that it rubs off on anybody around him. Lootz is a cooler - a guy who circulates around in a casino run by Alec Baldwin, cooling off winning streaks. If this sounds improbable, you've rented the wrong DVD, because it only gets moreso. This film is a somewhat unique Vegas fantasy film where luck and love play the starring roles. It's a Las Vegas love story, but unlike the disturbing Leaving Las Vegas, it's not a story of hopelessness and redemption, but rather, an adult fairy tale.

Maria Bello turns in an excellent performance as Lootz' romantic interest - the woman who changes everything for him, turning his luck around and, therefore, threatening his livelihood. Alec Baldwin, an obsessed and beleaguered casino manager, will stop at nothing to keep Lootz around.

I'm not a big fan of Vegas, or Vegas-oriented films, but the cast and the unusual themes of The Cooler made it a must see for me. The script was good, and the cinematography was good, but nothing special. Baldwin is terrific and so is Maria Bello. Macy's performance was not quite up to his usual par, and the direction occasionally seemed a little directionless, but all in all, this is an interesting film and well worth seeing.
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Las Vegas-Or the City in a Parallel Universe
lawprof16 May 2004
"The Cooler" has really divided viewers. Some, definitely not all, are taken with William H. Macy's first-ever sexy role where he shows his buns (and a bit more) as Bernie the Cooler, a key employee at the Shangri-la, a Las Vegas casino a bit shopworn and out of touch with the latest and hottest on the Strip. A cooler is a guy who shows up by the side of a punter on a long winning streak and, somehow, extinguishes his luck merely by hanging around the table and acting like a klutz.

Maria Bello is a cocktail waitress, Natalie, relegated to the low end of the casino where elderly day trippers bet small amounts. Feeling sorry for her, and perhaps a bit attracted, Bernie gets her transferred to the big spender zone where, presumably, tips are better. One thing leads to another and - wow - Macy is, according to a few of my female friends, a heck of a lot sexier than, say, a wannabe babe magnet like Brad Pitt.

Running the casino is Shelley, Alec Baldwin. Shelley has a problem: the casino's investors (a euphemism) want to tear down the place and build a new, modern joint that will pack in the younger high rollers. A sentimentalist at heart, as well as a gangster, Shelley wants Shangri-la - which does turn a profit as he points out to the guys demanding change - to stick it out as the last classy, old style casino. This is the stuff of eyeball to eyeball confrontation.

Natalie is the catalyst for a change in Bernie's luck - and lust. From an initially awkward conjoining, the two fall deeply in love and find they're in synch in the sack. So she's no longer a catalyst, she's the Significant Other.

Bernie has some family issues with his lackluster son and Natalie has to deal with problems with Shelley that would merit a lawsuit about a hostile workplace . Shelley - poor guy - really needs a dedicated cooler, Bernie is the best and he knows, he thinks, how to insure renewed employee dedication.

No Nevada gaming authority or cops here - this casino seems to be in a parallel universe where the honchos make their own rules independent of even the semblance of regulation. There can't really be a Shangri-la like this place in Las Vegas (I'm sort of sure).

Macy delivers a terrific performance as a schlepp who finds he has the heart of if not a lion at least a fierce tabby. Bello handles the shifting moods of her character very well-she's a good actress. And very pretty. Baldwin turns in a predictably dependable job as a tired mobster/businessman who holds true to values rejected by the new generation of Organized Crime wiz kids (one persistent pest sent to remake the casino is dismissed as a "Harvard turd").

All in all, a good movie especially because it showcases Macy in an unexpected role where he demonstrates the depth of his enormous acting ability.

WARNING: Very explicit sexuality and some in-your-face brutality. Not for kids.

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Leaving Las Vegas
jotix10020 December 2003
This film directed by Wayne Kramer has a more realistic approach to what goes on in casinos and other seedy gambling places, a far cry to the new Disneylike-Las Vegas of today.

Just to think that this poor loser Bernie can attract the gorgeous Natalie is enough for him to think: Gee, what's wrong with this picture?...Bernie hasn't scored with a babe in quite a while, so when he gets so lucky in bed, it's the moment to call it quits and take the next Greyhound out of town because things like that can only happen to schmucks, or in this case, to this 'cooler', as his boss calls him. One has to really have an open mind to even think this Natalie will fall in love with Bernie.

The idea of how people can be jinxed by these casino reptilians is a thing not to be believed. If it exists, I don't know, not being into gambling, but then, the world of gamblers are full of superstitions.

William H. Macy is an actor that is always interesting to watch. His Bernie is a flawed character, but inside he is a decent person who wants to get out of his present occupation. Maria Bello is excellent as the woman who will stand by her man.

The real surprise of the film is Alec Baldwin. This is, without a doubt, the best role in quite a while for him. His Shelly is a man without scruples who is ruthless with those that dare to cross him. He actually deserves better material where he can excel.

This film was a pleasant surprise because of the acting that Mr. Kramer has elicited from his cast.
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Enjoyable movie with some warts
Prutnumse29 September 2006
I enjoyed this movie. Wonderful performances all over, especially by Baldwin and Macy. Also, I felt intrigued by the character that Baldwin portrayed - a bad guy for whom you feel sorry. You don't see that every day, in your typical run-of-the-mill Hollywood movie. So why didn't it receive more than a six from me? One word: Predictability. All the supposedly interesting little plot-twists, you could see them coming a mile away. Also, the dialogue was at times somewhat cliché ("You don't have any real friends" or "I think I love you. No, wait. I'm *sure* I love you." - lines like these are going to come out goofy, even from the mouths of great actors.
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Maria Bello is Mesmerizing!
cosmickid198026 November 2004
Maria Bello is mesmerizing in this movie! After I watched this for the first time, I couldn't get her beauty and her character out of my head. She has caught my eye once before on the movie "Payback" with Mel Gibson, and then this movie and the other movies I have seen with her in were somewhat disappointing. Yet, in "The Cooler", she gives the kind of performance that should bust her career wide open, but I don't think it ever happened, which is very sad. Looking at many of the leading ladies in the current state of movies, and all I see is perfect stars that don't have any depth of character. Yes, I know many actress are doing good stuff, but Maria has something special, something thats hard to explain, but there is no doubt in my mind that she has a lot of it. In conclusion to my boast of Maria Bello...I truly believe that a woman with her talent and beauty should be the lead actor in movies! I think the era of Julia Roberts is over...all hail Maria Bello! ;)
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Plot Analysis and commentary--Spoilers ahead
robertllr7 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I am going to address my comments only to the criticism of the last 30 minutes of the film. According to many of the commentators, the ending is "unbelievable." I think what these viewers are missing is that the movie is not meant to be believable, it is pure myth. Moreover, Bernie does not talk Shelly into having a change of heart. To think that would be to miss the entire point of the Shelly character and of the movie.

It is a credit to the film makers that they do not hit us over the head with it, but in fact, all along, Shelly is not an SOB using his best friend and destroying those who get in his way. In fact, it is the exact opposite: all of Shelly's actions are designed to help Bernie.

You have to get involved in the back story to work this all out. Recall that Shelly and Bernie have been friends a long time—partners in crime when they were both grifters. We learn that Shelly has had Bernie kneecapped. Natalie expresses horror at this revelation; but Bernie explains that he was addicted to gambling and was in debt to the casinos for more than he could pay. Shelly's seemingly heartless act has cured Bernie of his disease ("Anytime I think of gambling," he says, "I just reach down and feel what's left of my cartilage…and the feeling passes") and puts him in a position to pay back the debt—thereby saving his life.

Time passes, Bernie's obligation is up and he wants to move on. Then Bernie "by chance" runs into his son (clearly a bad egg if ever here was one) In one of the most horrible scenes, however, we watch appalled as Shelly proceeds to threaten the life of Mike and his bride and unborn daughter. Indeed, in an unimaginable act of brutality, Shelly viscously kicks the pregnant woman in the stomach, only to reveal the pillow she has been hiding, thereby unmasking the perfidy of the couple, who have intended all along to bilk Bernie. Shelly kneecaps Mikey, which at first seems horrible, but in reality probably puts him off taking on his father again. In other words—it's the myth of Texas justice—i.e. the illegality of the act is not in question--the jury are to consider only whether or not the SOB had it coming to him.

Natalie starts going out with Bernie; then we find that Shelly has hired her to hustle and romance the poor slob, just to keep him in Vegas. When it seems like his plan has backfired—that the two have really fallen in love with each other—Shelly again commits unspeakable violence, this time to Natalie, which violence, however, only makes her love Bernie more. Convinced now that love has given him luck, he confronts Shelly on the roof top of the Casino. Shelly professes to be unmoved. But then, Bernie goes on to win at craps, aided, as we note, by Shelly's curious power (which we saw earlier when he jinxes Mike's crapshoot) of giving the dice the eye, to make them turn up as he wants. We know now--having suspected it in the earlier scene with Mike's shoot where it is Shelly, not Bernie who clearly turns the tables—that it is really Shelly who is the cooler. Shelly does not need, and has never needed Bernie. Bernie is a loser indeed—but only because of his own weakness of character.

With the power of love behind him, Bernie really does have luck on his side, but it is clear he doubts this luck, as he keeps looking nervously at Shelly who is standing over the final game with this inscrutable look on his face. But Shelly gives Bernie the win, and even takes out one of the real Bad guys (symbolized, as is pretty common, by the young educated Turk with all brains and no heart.) So are we being asked to believe that Bernie's rooftop eloquence has finally turned the hard heart of Shelly? Certainly not. Indeed we must see Shelly as the very conscious force that has only ever had one goal—to see Bernie "get everything he deserves." All of Shelly's seeming barbarities only help to further the escape of Bernie from his life-long doldrums. Shelly really has been his friend all along—a sort of Machiavellian Genie in the bottle–if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor.

Shelly does, of course have his own agenda as well. Knowing full well that he, like his singer friend (whom he euthanizes—again it seems villainous, but don't forget the singer is a drug addict about to be driven out anyway—the story of the lion pride is clear to all the parties.) But Shelly is an old lion, too, and he wants to go out fighting. He knows he is going out—has known it since before the boss and his two hirelings came in the door.

So what we really have in the last portion of the story is not an improbable change of heart, but instead the final move in a craftily constructed, seamless web of altruistic machination, coupled with the heroic/mythic "blaze of glory" theme. The screenwriters are to be given credit that they don't make this obvious. They make us work for the satisfaction. If the viewer doesn't put it together we get cheated by what looks like an unlikely turn of events.

Watch it again, and you'll see what I'm saying is true.
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The Cooler Craps Out...
garypage8 May 2004
I was expecting something much better than this due to all the hype this film was receiving during Oscar-time.

The heavy-handed symbolism through-out the film (almost in every scene) had me cringing; the "Movie Made For TV" level of acting had me squirming (I know. A lot of people have said that the acting in this film was excellent, but it verged on melodramatic in a great many scenes); and the script which seemed to be written by a first-year film student had me shaking my head in disbelief. The only thing that kept me interested in watching the film to the end was the nudity.

If I want smart, well-written and acted films about people in the gambling world, I'll stick with my favorites: "Casino", "Atlantic City", "Hard Eight", and "California Split".

Score: 2 out of 10
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About as funny as someone with a gambling problem.
filmkritic10 September 2003
I attended a screening of 'The Cooler' at the Toronto Film Festival this year. While the other reviews I've read seem to be generally (and mystifyingly) positive, I must tell you without any kind of axe to grind that this film is unimaginably, unspeakably bad. The very brave and candid performances by William H. Macy and Maria Bello have been horribly misspent on what is probably the least polished, most clichéd script to have received the green light in years. I don't know how bad The Brown Bunny was, but I'm certain it couldn't have attained the Dante-style depths that this one did. As courageous as their performances were, perhaps the bravest thing these otherwise brilliant actors did was to entrust themselves to such a dreadful director and abysmal screenplay.

He must pitch pretty well in the boardroom, because he should never been permitted to be within a hundred yards of a camera. The dialogue is so embarrassingly contrived and clumsy that I actually found myself blushing during the screening. I am mortified that the talents of Macy have been totally squandered in the hands of someone whose direction is as incompetent as his writing.

Watching gifted actors like Alec Baldwin labor through Kramer's appalling script and ham-fisted direction was akin to watching a baby seal get clubbed to death - I felt angered, helpless, and sickened all at the same time. Although I am always glad that there are investors and industry-people willing to take risks on quirky scripts with interesting premises, this picture was a total, utter fiasco. Kramer couldn't have been crueler to these actors if he had himself taken a steel pipe to their knees. I hope for their sakes they can all avoid similar humiliations in the future. Macy wisely ducked out the side door and didn't even stick around for the screening. Regrettably, it seems that the bad luck of main character has rubbed off on the picture in the worst possible way. Anyone accustomed to quality independents will likely find it completely unbearable.
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A buddy pic between a malevolent god and meek man?
ThurstonHunger1 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I anticipated this film a little too much, it's a much smaller film, sort of feels like a short story realization. So file me between the philistines and the elite here (and I'm not quite sure which group loved the movie, and which hated it.)

Personally, I am not that interested in seeing another Las Vegas I chose to view this as a film about a malevolent god. Now, I'm an agnostic, though raised by monotheists, and quite honestly a pantheon allows for a lot more interesting interaction between gods and men. With monotheism, God has to be the literal be-all and end-all (and know-all and create-all, etc...). With more gods, you can have specialization, and Alec Baldwin's Shelly character here is the god of Shangri-la.

Some spoilers follow, the short summary...don't seek this film out but watch it when you get a chance I'd say. Oh if you are offended by sex and violence, welcome to Earth... and skip this film.

Back to Shelly, sure there is the clash of the old school Las Vegas titans and the modern rollercoasters for the stroller set. That's not uninteresting, but Shelly with his video omniscience, and ultrasound and X-ray vision to boot, is the god of all he surveys. His deification is underscored by the scene of his stomping on the mock-up of the new Golden Shangri-la.

Still being a god is a lonely affair, why do you think all those Greek gods and goddesses were always swan diving into the human realm? Shelly has empowered William Macy's Bernie Lootz with a particular power. I wish I had not known what it was beforehand, and if you don't more "power" to you, but you should really stop reading now.

It is made plain during the opening shots of the movie anyways, what is interesting to me is Macy's subtle pride in this rather perverse power. At the same time, he wants out...and you guessed it, "they keep pulling me back in." Mafia and casino films will have their regulation amounts of violence, and this delivers it as well. We don't see the scene in which Shelly wounds Bernie, but Bernie recounts it with odd fondness and even worship.

The violence turned my wife off, so she missed the sex. I would disagree with those that write off the sex as gratuitous, maybe they were afraid they actually saw Macy's I'm sorry willy or whatever euphemism somehow makes it okay for you talk about. Yawn.

The key to the sex for me was twofold. The initial clumsy coitus between Bernie and Maria Bello's Natalie is a lot more real than much of the sex we see, and it serves with their later more passionate sex to underscore the sexy sea-change that Bernie undergoes. The other aspect is that it sets up the very funny joke scene of revenge sex that Bernie inflicts upon his neighbor. (I wondered why we had to meet that couple earlier in the film...)

The novel idea behind Bernie's "job" and his relation with Baldwin's god of Shangri-la are what drive this film. There are some tender moments with Bello, but those are undermined by some plot contrivances that we've seen before a little too often. I think it is the contrast behind the unique notion of the "cooler" and the array of cliches that get trotted out that doom this film to a mere mortal, and hence ephemeral existence.

Explaining the phrase "easy mark," as though it were something Bernie and Shelly coined was one. The whole scamming son (mirrored by Nathalie's lost boy) also felt very counterfeit.

And yes the deus-ex-drunk-driver scene is amongst them. It was too similar to those superhero scenes where the villain takes time to explain why killing our hero is so sweet. And...whoops! For a short story, that scene would have been enough to demonstrate that good-luck/bad-luck is a matter of perspective, or in this case about 12 inches it would appear.

Lower your expectations to up the ante on this one... This film may be mildly linked to how you feel about Las Vegas.

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I thought this was a B movie
HeavnlyCreature21 January 2004
I saw this film back in October at the Savannah Film Festival and while watching I was thinking to myself how much it felt like I was watching a straight to video movie. Can someone please explain to me how so many people's expectations of movies are so low that they see this steaming pile of excrement and think it is great. I am baffled.
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Snazzy-looking gamblers' drama...infatuated with film noir, but with nothing genuinely fresh to offer
moonspinner5523 July 2010
As Golden Age perceptions uneasily change hands with New Money in today's Las Vegas, a casino owner with nostalgic leanings towards the city's heyday finds himself caught up short by the new corporate blood; worse, his favorite "cooler" (or, gambler's jinx) has fallen in love with a cocktail waitress, which has turned his luck around. Despite a snazzy design, some fine acting, and an apparent love for film noir, "The Cooler" doesn't seem to have anything new up its sleeve. The broads are still tough, the mobsters are still busting kneecaps in back alleys, and the sad sacks and wiseacres are still hanging around, hoping to get lucky. The ubiquitous Alec Baldwin does well with a complicated character (the casino boss with a soft spot who still has to play the heavy), but there's too much of him--and when Baldwin gets a head of steam going, rattling off at the mouth with fill-in-the-blank profanities, he's not showing us anything fresh or exciting. Ditto Paul Sorvino as the drug-addicted lounge lizard past his prime, or Ron Livingston as a smug Harvard stooge who wants to take over. William H. Macy has some terrific moments as the self-proclaimed loser who gets a new lease on life via working girl Maria Bello (a second generation Sharon Stone), but I'm not sure how convincing that finale is. The movie's point seems to be "Casinos don't appreciate it when a gambler wins", yet the bittersweet finish belies this, probably for the sake of the box-office. ** from ****
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more and more chance all the time
lee_eisenberg10 September 2006
Too many movies set in Las Vegas have gone along with the glitzy image that we always see, so it's good to see one take a grittier approach. William H. Macy plays a gambling jinx who falls in love right before he's supposed to leave the city, so there's the issue of how this might affect things. Some people might observe how the movie looks at this relationship, but I noticed how it looked at chance, especially with what happens at the end. Overall, I view it as one the many movies from a new generation of directors (sort of like what got released in the late '60s and early '70s). Definitely worth seeing, with a very effective script and all. Also starring Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello, Shawn Hatosy and Ron Livingston.
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Not that good a movie
nyc man22 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I thought `The Cooler' was not that good (a friend thought it would make cult status, but he's a gambler). It was based on a magical premise, that someone could (all the time!) magically within a second make someone lose. I guess if you are a superstitious gambler, then that makes much sense, but for a scientific adult, it is a bunch of garbage. Maybe it's that I am getting older and am tired of cliché movies I liked as a kid, e.g.: James Bond, Superman, time traveling, action movies where people revert to hand to hand combat. I have to agree with one reviewer here on imdb who thought the writing -- not the actors or the script concept -- was bad. This is a sub-average movie.


There were some good moments: that the unbelievable chance of the guy meeting his son in a diner actually turned out to be a plan of the son, that the girl was set up (ala the 1993 movie `True Romance') to have sex with the cooler, and that the Harvard MBA kid actually put a contract out on Shelly. But there were lots of unbelievable scenes: the last minute of the movie, the winning money streak near the end, the predictable plants coming back to life. By the way, the quality of the celluloid where I went (Sutton Theater, 57th St, NYC) was pretty crappy. I thought this would be a nice one hour tv movie, but was a boring at twice the length.
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Give me a Break!
kg2238413 February 2004
This movie was terrible! How can so many people laud this film? I don't get it. Where do I start. Sheesh. First of all, it was shot like a student film that just happened to have some major stars and a primo set. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against the indie film scene. In fact I love the indie film scene. In fact I thrive on the indie film scene. But guess what. Just because something is made poorly like a student film, doesn't make it an indie film, and even if it did, doesn't mean the indie crowd has to swoon over every indie film that's released. You can't attribute the poor film exposure, the clunky storytelling, the blatant 'envelope pushing' sex scenes, and the absolute absence of any kind of filmmaking style to the fact that its an independent film making a statement, because its not. In fact, at its fundamental level, The Cooler is the essence of a Hollywood film; it's a gaudy, regurgitated story (try Leaving Las Vegas meets Casino), with absolutely unnecessary nudity, and some stupid subtext about a guy's luck that always seems to turn just when the writer can't seem to figure out a logical way to save the hero. Could you define a hollywood film more to the 't'?

I was thoroughly disenchanted by this film. Fine, ok, the acting by almost every player was superb. Funny, the script must have had some potential to hook the likes of Baldwin and Macy (both fantistic and complete with their portrayals), and of course, hooking two stars like that, you can practically reign in any other minor star you want in hollywood. Unfortunately, your potential on the page does not equal a great film. As many first time, or first few times directors, the story is anything but developed. Wayne Kramer can't seem to establish any kind of pace to the movie and juxtaposes full on dramatic, super reality scenes (like casino), with surreal, "magical", luck driven scenes. Its awful. Are we watching a drama or a fantasy? No doubt superstition has long driven many people in Vegas (and it would seem that goes for the 'old school' Casino owners themselves), and if that was the strain Kramer was going with, he should have stuck with it. Polluting it with gritty 'who knows what's going to happen next' reality scenes undermined any belief I had suspended in the magic of luck.

The film had a very episodic nature to it, something like P.T. Anderson's 'Magnolia'. The difference is, Anderson knows how to pull his film together into a cohesive, consistent story, one that stays true to the pace it sets, and is constructed with an ability to understand the story as a whole, as well as how all the little pieces fit together. I got the feeling Kramer never really got a grasp of the story he was telling. The man controlling the camera (ie. the director) has to use that camera to tell the story. Kramer may develop into a great director one day, but in the meantime, he needs to focus on figuring out how to create a story with one consistent style that is simpatico with the story he's trying to tell.

My suggestion would be to visit a few more indie film theaters, or visit some festivals or something. There are so many extremely talented storytellers out there. Yes, maybe I'm being a little bit nitpicky. And yeah, sometimes it sucks, because when you're nitpicky, most films suck. But the thing is, when you see the really good films, the ones that make you forget that your sitting in a theater, you're floored and the experience is all but palpable. You see, I don't nitpick as habit in all films. I nitpick because a film is so lopsided, it makes me aware that I'm in a theater. It makes me aware of an inconsistent style, or obvious plot holes. So all you Cooler fans out there, don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger. Kramer's the one who mismade the film. Get mad at him, then go see something like Lost in Translation or The Girl with a Pearl Earing, which are both great examples of indie film at its best.
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Very disappointing
lunaboy20002 May 2004
William Macy tries something different in this movie--he plays a loser! In fact, he radiates bad luck. He works in a casino where they pay him merely to stand beside people winning too much at the tables. As soon as he arrives the winners start to lose and this pleases casino boss Alec Baldwin. It's an amusing premise but unfortunately there is no humor at all in this film. In fact, it's mean spirited, violent and worst of all, pointless! I thought it might pick up when Paul Sorvino appears as an aging lounge singer, but he's gone 5 minutes later. The only inspired section of this film is the final credits which are super-imposed over newsreels showing the demolition of numerous old casinos. If you *really* want to see a dark, depressing meditation on Vegas life, check out Paul Thomas Anderson's HARD EIGHT.
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grouchomarxist19 January 2004
I cannot understand why this film has so many positive reviews. IMDB users and most professional critics seem to agree that the film is brilliant. This makes me really upset. The filmmaking at work in The Cooler made me angry. Angry. It was as if the film was entering into some sort of contest in which the goal was to use every lame camera trick that has ever existed. You name it and The Cooler has it. Dolly zooms, inanimate object POV shots, excessive slow motion, excessive fast motion, shots of troubled people reflected in a shattered mirror, those shots from under the soles of someone's shoes where the camera is under a glass plate to get the shot even though the character is walking on a regular floor. Or how about X-RAY VISION?? No, I'm not kidding, to show us that someone is playing with loaded dice Mr. Kramer uses x-ray vision.

All of the above is unsurprising though when you look at the script. WHICH IS HORRID. The script is offensive to human existence. It distills complex human emotion into easy generalizations. The characters are not people. They don't feel like people. They don't act like people. They are pawns for whatever plot point is supposed to come next. In addition to that, the script treats the audience like we're idiots. Take this for example. Macy drinks coffee in the film. He likes cream in his coffee. Sounds like a great set-up for something doesn't it? Sounds like an opportunity to paint some broad strokes doesn't it? Well you can bet that Wayne Kramer doesn't miss out. Every time that Macy's character is down on his luck, and I mean every single time, there isn't any cream. And when things are looking up there's tons of cream to be had. Oh!! I get it! Right! When there's cream it's like-- The cream and the story-- The cream is like his luck and-- I get it. Wow. Mr. Kramer, how dumb do you think we are? Do we need to be instructed at every turn on how we ought to feel? I mean if it was just the creamer I'd let it slide, but it's the whole movie. The whole thing is like that. The movie acts the whole time like you don't get whatever is going on and you need at least one or two or three or four or five or six "clever" tricks in order for you, apparently a moron, to understand.

Good lord. This film is making me angrier by the second. I haven't even mentioned the acting yet. The cast can be divided into two categories: wasted talent and awful. In the wasted talent section is William H. Macy along with Alec Baldwin and Maria Bello. In the awful section is almost everybody else. Shawn Hatosy is the prime culprit. His performance seems like an SNL impression of a punk kid on The Sopranos. Oh, and just so you know he's a real bad seed, he blasts some kind of, you know, scary hardcore metal in his car. Yeah! He MUST be trouble. You know those punk kids and their loud rock and roll and their hoodlum tendencies, right? Right? Get it? Get it? And let's not forget that tattoo on his neck. Oooooo. Wow. He must be REALLY bad.

Speaking of rock and roll reminds me of music, which reminds me of the extremely intrusive score. It's noirish, saxophone heavy jazz that comes in every two seconds in order to "set the mood". Listen Mr. Kramer, we're not that stupid. We don't need a blaring score imposed on us virtually nonstop to keep us up to date on the "mood".

And The Cooler isn't even original. This film pilfers the Philip Seymour Hoffman scene directly from Hard Eight. Only it makes the scene awful. It takes a subtle, layered, human, and funny, really funny, scene and makes it broad, unfunny, and inhuman. That's what this movie is: Inhuman. It robs people of their humanity and turns them into whatever is easy to understand. Humans are not easy to understand, but this film is. It's like someone watched Hard Eight and took everything good about it and made it awful. Awful. I hate this movie.
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A 'loser take all' classic!
dpatrickw3 March 2003
One of those rarest of screen gems, a diamond in the rough with heart and soul, it has everything. Truly a modern masterpiece, this is one for thw ages. If this flick doesn't walk away with some serious hardware in next year's trophy races, there is no God. Baldwin, Macy, Bello and everyone involved with this beautifully written and executed tale deserves a big nod from Oscar. DON'T MISS THIS!
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Despite cast, film suffers from bad script
rosscinema20 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
This appeared to have all the right elements for an interesting film but somehow it fell apart completely. Lets see, could it be the cast? Nope. How about the premise of the story? Looked interesting to me. The script? Lets see...YUP! This is not a terrible film but it is a very predictable one with some uninspired dialogue and a totally silly ending. Story is about Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) who works at the Shangri-La Casino as a "Cooler". He's a lifelong loser that can make others lose just by walking near them. If someone is having a hot streak at a table they call Bernie who wanders next to the player and suddenly they lose. The casino boss is Shelly (Alec Baldwin) who is responsible for breaking Bernie's knee years earlier in a dispute about money and feeling guilty about what he did he gives Bernie a job at his casino. Local investors have been urging Shelly to change his casino to a more contemporary crowd but Shelly is proud that his joint is more old fashioned. Bernie has his eyes on a waitress named Natalie (Maria Bello) who barely notices him but Bernie gets her a better job and she starts to take a harder look at him. They meet and talk and end up at his apartment where they engage in sex which is the first time in years for Bernie. Now that Bernie has a girlfriend he starts to feel better about himself and ladyluck seems to be shining down on him. Suddenly the customers don't start losing around him and this alerts Shelly.


It turns out that Shelly has hired Natalie to keep him from moving away from Las Vegas but Natalie says that she loves him. This infuriates Shelly who doesn't want Bernie leaving and threatens both of them. This film is directed by newcomer Wayne Kramer and he was lucky to be able to get a very good cast because the script is another story. This story has so many cliche's that it becomes both predictable and silly. Natalie spends a couple of days with Bernie and naturally falls in love with him. I wasn't overly impressed by Bello's performance and one reason is that the script makes her character so cardboard. In a plea for sympathy her character describes how she gave up her child for adoption when she was 17 and came to Vegas to try and be a showgirl. If that wasn't cliched' enough she recites some truly hokey dialogue like "I love the schmuck". Macy's performance is honest and sincere but its definitely one that he can do in his sleep. He's played these roles before! Baldwin comes off the best and this is one of the better roles he's had in years. He's believable as a casino boss who can't stand the way things are changing around him. He can be both faithful and cruel depending on what's at stake. They're are a couple of gratuitous sex scenes involving Macy and Bello and I thought that these were the most honest moments in the film. Give both actors credit for their unctuous effort. If all the cliche's weren't enough the film has a terribly contrived and ridiculous ending that involves a traffic cop. As I walked out of the theater there was no debate on whether I would recommend this film, the unconscionable way this ends was more than enough. Not recommended.
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Excrutiatingly *BAD*!
pgbard23 November 2003
That this movie was actually MADE testifies to two sad facts: 1) A truly terrible script will be produced if you can get it hyped and attached; and 2) The skill of an actor is in acting, NOT picking scripts!

Scene by terrible scene, the actors recite cliched lines and enact gratutious behavior (sex and violence a'plenty) that neither move the story forward, or develop character in any emotionally compelling way. Sure, there's plenty of raw feeling in the overwrought expository lines for William Macy and Alec Baldwin to chew on, but the garish unreality of this Vegas fantasy story makes you wonder about what superhuman powers of self deception writer director Wayne Kramer possesses to have actually made this film, and what snake oil ingredients he's assembled to get this dreck swallowed by industry pros.

I don't want to give away the ending for those of you interested in personally experiencing the worst produced screenplay of the year; but if you think each scene can't get worse, wait till you witness the "deus ex machina" happy ending with the traffic cop; you won't know wheter to laugh or cry. (So don't worry, you'll be suprised; it DOES get worse!)
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