The Cooler (2003)
March 13, 2018 6:59 PM - Subscribe

In an old school Las Vegas casino, its top gambling jinx breaks his curse when he falls in love, much to his boss' consternation.

Roger Ebert: "The Cooler" is old-fashioned in the way the Shangri-La is old-fashioned, and I mean that as a compliment. This is a movie without gimmicks, hooks or flashy slickness. It gives us characters who are worn and real, who inhabit a world that is seen with unforgiving perception, whose fates have more to do with their personalities than with the requirements of the plot. The acting is on the money, the writing has substance, the direction knows when to evoke film noir and when (in a trick shot involving loaded dice) to get fancy.

Entertainment Weekly: Alec Baldwin’s textured, Oscar-nominated performance as volcanic Shelly Kaplow was the highlight of The Cooler, director Wayne Kramer’s anti-”Ocean’s Eleven” fable, one of last year’s best-acted films. An old-school Vegas casino chief, Kaplow beats up women and manipulates his best friend, yet when he finally gets his comeuppance, you can’t help but feel sympathetic toward the anachronistic brute.

William H. Macy is equally brilliant as Bernie Lootz, the walking curse whose life — and luck — change for the better when he falls for a cocktail waitress (a daring Maria Bello). While Baldwin chews up the scenery, Macy’s sad eyes and nervous grin enhance every scene without stealing it.

NYTimes: Bernie may be hapless and defeated, but he holds on to enough dignity to keep from being a complete sap, and his instinctive decency is never inflated into sainthood. There is a slyness about this loser that makes him intriguing as well as pitiable, and Natalie's deepening affection for him, which might have tested the audience's skepticism, is wonderfully credible.

AV Club: Macy's struggles play out against a larger cultural battle between the proudly sleazy Las Vegas of old, symbolized by the oily Baldwin, and the forces of modernity, which want to turn his casino into a Mall Of America-style abomination with slot machines and crap tables. Baldwin would rather operate an honest den of vice than a fake family attraction, and one of The Cooler's central accomplishments lies in the way it evokes a strange nostalgia for the brutal, vulgar, parasitic ways of Las Vegas' past. The Cooler's plot twists strain plausibility, and while the film is seldom convincing, the rotting glamour of its milieu and the inspired performances at its center provide ample rewards for making the leaps of faith the plot requires. As a movie about flesh-and-blood human beings, The Cooler is hokey and convoluted, but as a sticky-hearted fable of redemption, it's surprisingly seductive.

posted by MoonOrb (4 comments total)
Good movie. Easily some of Alec Baldwin and Filliam H. Muffman’s best work.
posted by kreinsch at 7:32 PM on March 13, 2018

I think it was a single month in which I rented this, Croupier, and Hard Eight. This is a good-ass movie.

I remember my brother living with me at the time, and part of my review was "Maria Bello sex scene? Yes, please! William H. Macy sex scene? No, thank you!"
posted by rhizome at 8:52 PM on March 13, 2018

I was just thinking about this film on my way into work this morning! It is a great movie.
posted by nubs at 7:30 AM on March 14, 2018

Yes, this is a lost gem of a movie. Sweet, dark, sad and hopeful.
posted by emjaybee at 1:33 PM on March 18, 2018

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