Film-Forward Review: [THE COOLER]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin & William H. Macy

Rotten Tomatoes
Showtimes & Tickets
Enter Zip Code:

Directed by: Wayne Kramer.
Produced by: Sean Furst & Michael A. Pierce.
Written by: Frank Hannah & Wayne Kramer.
Director of Photography: Jim Whitaker.
Edited by: Arthur Coburn.
Music by: Mark Isham & Diana Krall.
Released by: Lions Gate.
Country of Origin: USA. 101 min. Rated: R.
With: William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello & Ron Livingston.
DVD Features: Commentary by: director/co-writer Wayne Kramer, co-writer Frank Hannah & director of photography Jim Whitaker. Commentary by: Kramer & composer Mark Isham. The Sundance Channel’s Anatomy of a Scene. Storyboards. Bios.

Bernie Lootz (Macy) is a “cooler” in a Las Vegas casino run by Shelly Kaplow (Baldwin). When a gambler’s at the craps table, Bernie walks by, congratulates him with a pat on the shoulder, and instantly the luck is gone, and the chips are scooped up by the dealer. For Shelly, Bernie’s contagious misfortune is indispensable to the casino. But Bernie, down on his luck, wants to leave and start a new life. Among the many changes the young casino guru Larry (Livingston) wants to make would be to turn the casino into another Disney-style family attraction, where the cooler is replaced with subliminal tapes that whisper “Lose, lose, lose” under soft music.

Luck, in this movie, aside from being very real and very mysterious, is also, somehow, a state of mind - Shelly and Bernie are convinced of this. Shelly must fend off Larry while convincing Bernie to stay, without giving such a boost to the cooler’s spirits that he starts feeling viable and lucky again. Natalie (Bello), a waitress, is Shelly’s (and Bernie’s) last hope. Previously indifferent, she offers to sleep with Bernie before he leaves; he gives in and suddenly his runaway cat returns, his dying plants start to revive, and - best of all for everyone but Shelly - his corrosive touch at the blackjack table no longer sticks. The story, often funny, ultimately uplifting, turns on some great writing and fine performances by the entire cast. Baldwin is startling as a conflicted casino don; Bello is superb as the seductress who gives herself over to her fate; and Macy takes an exciting leap from self-doubting loser to confident lover. With his leap, a film apparently about luck turns out to be about karma. Joel Whitney, poet/screenwriter, teaches at Fordham University
November 22, 2003

DVD Extras: The Cooler boasts one of the most impressive ensembles of 2003, so it is a letdown that the cast is almost completely absent from the extras. Alec Baldwin received his first Oscar nomination for the film, and while it is entertaining to listen to director Wayne Kramer praise his skills on both commentaries, it would have been more enjoyable to hear Baldwin’s own reaction to his greatest critical success. Nonetheless, the director provides some insightful pieces of trivia, including the fact that the movie was shot in only three weeks and the set was a real casino closed for renovations. The Anatomy of a Scene would prove more interesting if it wasn’t simply a reiteration of these and other facts covered in the commentaries. Michael Belkewitch
July 5, 2004



Archive of Previous Reviews

Contact us