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3.8 out of 5 stars26
3.8 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 1 November 2004
I didn't really expect to enjoy this film when I started to watch it , but "The Cooler" turned out to be one of the best movies I've seen this year. William Macy plays Bernie Lootz , a "cooler" in a Las Vegas casino (a person who brings winning streaks to an end- a "scud" in my dialect), employed by manager Shelly (Alec Baldwin). The script is excellent and the acting performances by Macy,Baldwin and Maria Bello are top class -Macy's and Baldwin's of Oscar quality.
The main element of the story is Macy's romance with Bello's character Natalie and how this transforms Macy and his professional and personal relationship with Baldwin. The other element is the pressurising of Baldwin by his bosses to make major changes to his casino ,his management style and the introduction of a new university educated young assistant to implement these changes.This has the effect of destabilising and transforming Baldwin also.
The story is gripping and the unlikley Macy/Bello relationship is amazingly credible with perfect chemistry between them.Even the nude scenes were remarkably natural.
"The Cooler" is a thoroughly entertaining movie, strong on characterisation and superbly acted. A very 21st Century romance.
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on 17 October 2004
The Cooler tells the story of Bernie (William H Macy), a Cooler whose job it is to bring bad luck to the tables of a Las Vegas casino. However, when he falls in love with a beautiful waitress (Maria Bello), his newfound happiness brings about good luck, for him and the nearby players. As a result, Casino owner Shelly (Alec Baldwin) loses out big time and manoeuvres matters to ensure Bernie's good luck doesn't last for long.
I wasn't sure what to expect from this movie. It got great reviews and was apparently loved by critics, but this usually leads to disappointment at the realisation that the movie is over-hyped (much like Fight Club and American Beauty). However, The Cooler isn't one of those movies. For a start, it's very un-Hollywood in nature - it is at times brutally violent and the sex scenes, the first one in particular, are far from erotic. In fact, if you ignore the whole concept of a guy being blessed/cursed with good/bad luck, this is a very "real" movie. Of course the whole "luck" concept does at times force you to suspend your disbelief, particularly at the end, but that all adds to the charm of the movie.
The cast are nothing short of superb. William H Macy once again portrays a loser type, and you can't help but rejoice when the hopeless guy falls in love. Alec Baldwin also takes the role of "the bad guy" and not only makes you hate him for the things he does, but on occasion allows you to see the humanity in his character. Caught in between these two actors of course is Maria Bello who oozes sexiness and holds her own besides the two stellar actors.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable film, one in which you didn't know whether Bernie and his lady luck would make it out alive, or suffer the consequences of trying to beat the Vegas-men.
I'd recommend this film to anyone, if they can live with the sex and violence that is.
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on 4 September 2006
This was an unexpectedly sweet, endearing film. a sweet love story, really.

william macy's character is a chronic loser, forever reliable jinx, who sabotages a hot gaming table the second he steps up to it. And that's his job, and he does it well, too well for boss alec baldwin, playing an old school casino boss who doesnt want to 'evolve' into a modernised steve wynn type, likes his casino old vegas, hard nosed, scummy style, where cheats still get beaten within an inch of their lives in the back.

but macy's luck changes when he stumbles across a new cocktail waitress who works alongside him and things dont go quite as the boss planned.

it is the perfect story of a lovable loser, played impeccably by william macy and the very unlikely romance between him and this waitress, whose character, messed up broken blonde, is reminiscent of elisabeth shue in leaving las vegas.

but its not an entirely downer film like the aforementioned. without wishing to give the game away, the ending is not tragic, nor is it a nauseating, formulaic happy ending that wrecks a film - u want these guys to make it, they are the ultimate underdogs whose love for one another flips his bad luck into good, who make a very bold break to escape the wrath of their soul destroying casino life and vicious boss, toward moving onto a normal, happy life together, against all odds, literally.

a must see, particularly if you've ever felt owned by your own boss.
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on 16 July 2007
Shelly Kaplow is an old fashioned casino owner in this brilliant Wayne Kramer film. Shelly is played perfectly by a once lost actor Alex Baldwin, whose previous failures as a leading man have led him down the path of becoming an absolutely magnificent character actor. Shelly is a man Who runs his casino his way, despite being urged by other forces (including Ron Livingston's great performance as Larry Sokolove) to update his business beyond Las Vegas nostalgia. Shelly also employs "Coolers"; these are people who carry an array of bad luck and destroy the luck of even the hottest casino tables. Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) is the very best Cooler in the business and despite their checkered past, he is also Shelly's only real friend. Bernie's luck is terrible until he finds love in the form of Maria Bello's Natalie. His luck turns as he is planning to leave the business and Shelly is trying to talk him out of it. So the stage is set for these actors to roam free and walk us through a delightful and at times shocking thriller.

I laughed at these characters and thoroughly enjoyed watching the actors absolutely rule the screen in this enjoyable little movie. Macy normally must outshine stronger roles around him as a supporting actor but here we see him in a rare feature role and he is as good as ever. Macy comes off as perpetually unnerved by all the cards he is dealt in his life no matter what they are. The only time Macy is upstaged or equaled is by Maria Bello's convincing opposite role as Natalie, and the furious and often hilarious performance unleashed by Alec Baldwin. Ironically, we see Baldwin take the reins and steal scenes in a supporting role from a career supporting role master in Macy, and his leading role here. I knew Baldwin was good because the hype was seemingly coming from all the right places, but he is extremely entertaining in this film, even more so then I expected.

At times The Cooler has it's share of predictable details I really shouldn't get into here, but I don't think that it's ability to surprise us with some of its twists is what the film sets out to accomplish, although there were some points where I wish they did. We get to understand the reasons why Natalie and Bernie are in love so fast, we understand why Shelly is a sadistic and egotistical power monger (a rarity to see a microscope put on such a villain) and Macy under plays his role as an alternative to Baldwin's fiery Shelly...perhaps that is why Shelly sees them as close friends.

The Cooler carries a style that paces the natural humor just enough where it is funny without being a comedy, while also keeping the drama in check enough to really keep you caring at key moments. This film is handled impeccably well by Kramer and even more defined by a bevy of excellent performances. Good story and very rarely slow to even the most impatient viewer. The Cooler is a very good film.
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Bill Macy has made a career out of playing losers and actually wanted to put such roles behind him, but Wayne Kramer and Frank Hannah's script for "The Cooler" made that hard to do. Bernie Lootz is the title character and he is employed by Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) as a "cooler." Shelly runs the Shangri-La, the last "old school" (read "mob connected") casino in Las Vegas, and a cooler is the guy who brings an end to winning streaks. Bernie does this by just being himself; if he touches the roulette wheel, brushes your shoulder, or sits at your table, your luck turns bad. This particular talent is very useful to Shelly and now Bernie is just days away from paying off his debt to the casino and leaving Las Vegas behind for a place where there are clocks on the way and you can actually tell day from night. Needless to say, Shelly is not thrilled with this idea, and since Bernie's limp is a memento from their "negotiations."
But Bernie has other concerns because he has made a surprising and magical connection with Natalie Belisario (Maria Bello) and actually has something to smile about for the first time in his life. Meanwhile Shelly is distracted because a group of "investors" have brought in Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston), a hot shot from the Harvard Business School, who represents the new Las Vegas of subliminal persuasion and other modern innovations to persuade customers to lose large amount of money. Shelly hates the new way and insists that the perfection of Shagrai-La should remain untouched. However, he has a new problem, because Natalie is making Bernie happy and suddenly people are winning a lot of money at the casino. This, it does not need to be pointed out, is not good for business and steps must be taken.
What makes "The Cooler" stand out is that both parts of the Bernie and Shelly relationship have stories that can stand on their own. Trying to define their relationship is tricky because it is so multi-faceted that it is hard to get through everything to get to the bottom line. In fact, it is hard for Bernie and Shelly to reach that point themselves, and fate (or Lady Luck) has to help them along. Baldwin was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar and Macy's performance is just as good (if Bernie was not clearly a leading role, he could have been nominated in the same category as well). Together they make one of the more interesting odd couples we have seen on the screen in recent years and "The Cooler" is one of the better off beat films of 2003 that will not disappoint Macy's legion of fans.
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In the most important sense this is a "premise" movie, the premise being that Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) is a magical personage who can bring bad luck to others just by his presence. In a premise movie, the suspension of disbelief that is required in all works of fiction (this movie is a fiction), is mandatory. Personally, I don't for a moment believe that anybody can influence the roll of the dice or the fall of the roulette wheel just by their presence or by buying somebody a drink, or even, as Bernie does at the blackjack table, by taking a hand himself and thereby making the house dealer lucky and the players and himself unlucky.
For this movie to work the premise must be accepted. If it isn't, the movie is semi-ridiculous. But this is not a full-blown fantasy like The Wizard of Oz or Mary Poppins. Aside from the premise, most of the rest of the movie is an attempt at realism.
Unfortunately some of the assumptions following the premise are themselves articles of faith and indeed amount to further premises that the viewer must accept for the movie to work. The problem with The Cooler is that it isn't long before many viewers are no longer able to suspend their disbelief and begin to find the movie preposterous. What struck me as most unlikely following the initial premise is to suppose that a Las Vegas casino, even one run by people from the old school of casino management, would believe that some unlucky schmuck could actually influence the fall of the dice and their gambling apparatus. How unlikely is it that a casino would actually hire such a guy and pay him money? The Las Vegas "cooler" is an urban legend.
Furthermore, since Bernie almost always loses and causes the players at the table to lose, someone could make a small fortune by betting against him. If he takes the dice, bet that he will crap out. If he bets on black at roulette, bet on red. To get really ridiculous have him bet on sports events. You like the New York Yankees? Have him bet on the team playing the Yankees.
In a sense then what this movie is really all about is magic versus mathematics and cold logic with the winner predictably being magic (and the power of true love, by the way), which is what the mass public wants. They want something beyond mathematics and logic and they want humans with the ability (through love) to rise above the empirical world and triumph over the forces of power and privilege, especially if that power and privilege is as corrupt and sadistic as Shelly Kaplow (Alex Baldwin in a fine, Oscar-nominated supporting role). The fact that Harvard-educated bean counters might also triumph is just a sop to realism.
All that aside I think this movie rises or falls mostly based on the viewer's appreciation of the acting of Macy. He is one of the most original actors of our time, whose style is truly his own, a striking cinema personage because he is strikingly unlike anyone else on screen. He is a thinking person's actor, an auteur's choice to star in an independent film; but he is not a charismatic presence in the same sense that say Al Pacino or Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise are. It is unlikely that he could convincingly and consistently play the sort of leading roles required of box-office buffos. To some he is just plain boring. But I always like to say that "boredom is in the mind of the boree."
This is the first time I've seen Maria Bello. She too is not a top drawer charismatic star. She is a good actress and really fits well the role of a cocktail waitress with a past. Would the movie had been better if say Reese Witherspoon or Julia Roberts had played her part? Hard to say, but I don't think so--although a more mainstream audience would have watched the film.
The movie is also about corporate power versus the individual. Bernie and Natalie are low functioning cogs in the casino corporate machinery. The way they are brutally used and disposed of by management is just a burlesque of what happens at Wal-Mart or Enron. Alex Baldwin's Shelley is in a sense a violent caricature of Ken Lay. Instead of just ripping people off, Shelley also physically brutalizes them.
As for the ending, which some have criticized, I want to say that given our acceptance of the magical premise of the movie in the first place, it was nicely done.
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Even if you're not an aficionado of Las Vegas glitter and sin, THE COOLER is a notable and absorbing drama.
Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) is one of Life's pre-eminent losers, and that's what makes him indispensable to casino owner Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin). Kaplow manages the Shangri-La, an aging and last-of-its-kind gambling hall run the old fashioned way - by the Mob. Shelly employs Bernie to bring his hang-dog demeanor and startlingly bad karma to tables where the punters are on a roll. Bernie's presence immediately turns the winner's luck bad, saving the house from having to make big payouts. Lootz and Kaplow are, um, longtime friends. Several years before, when Bernie had gotten in over his head with gambling debts, Shelly had broken Bernie's kneecap with a baseball bat and had written off Bernie's marker in exchange for indentured servitude at the Shangri-La. While oddly grateful to Shelly for turning his life around, Lootz now has only six days left on his contract, and he announces to Kaplow his intention of leaving Sin City when his time is up. Kaplow, under pressure from his Mob boss to modernize the operation into one of the city's G-rated casinos and improve the bottom line, is desperate to retain Lootz and his unusual talent, and is adamant about keeping the Shangri-La "traditional".
Bernie begins a relationship with cocktail waitress Natalie Belisario (Maria Bello). The steamy sex, the first of any sort that Lootz has had in years, blossoms into Love. Now, when an ebullient Bernie walks the casino floor, Lady Luck is at his side and the winners continue to win. Win big. Vis-a-vis Kaplow, this isn't a good career move, especially after a particularly nasty set of circumstances binds Lootz to his boss for an additional period of servitude.
THE COOLER is Macy's most brilliant performance in an accomplished but largely overlooked career. For his role as Bernie, Macy was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. It's a shame he didn't win. (He even gets to do nude love scenes with Bello. In an interview before the most recent Academy Awards, Macy commented that he's tried to stay in shape over the years for just that improbable eventuality. Good planning.)
Almost stealing the show is Baldwin, who garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and who also lost. Kaplow is polished and charming in a reptilian sort of way, and the violence he's capable of provides the film's most chilling sequences, especially after he catches a high roller cheating at dice.
THE COOLER is a perceptive look both at the gaming industry done Mafia style and the undercurrent of sleaze that most visitors to the Disneyland-style hotel casino's of Vegas probably never notice. The film contains brief scenes of violence not for the overly squeamish, and sex scenes not for the overly prudish. But by the movie's conclusion and its quirky twist of fortune, American audiences, which generally favor the underdog, have in Lootz a new and unlikely hero.
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Bernie (William H. Macy) is the ultimate Las Vegas loser. Having lost a fortune to casino owner Shelly (Alec Baldwin), he becomes employed by him by destroying the luck of winners with his uncanny ability to transfer 'bad luck'. All Bernie has to do is to stand next to a winner to immediately stop their winning streak. Bernie's life is so full of bad luck he can't even get enough cream out of a coffee creamer. A beautiful waitress named Natalie (Maria Bello) shows a huge interest in Bernie, who becomes suspicious. Does she love him or is this a trick? Suddenly Bernie's luck changes dramatically and he can't jinx anyone. Meanwhile Shelly is being hit up by consultants to modernize his non-profitable casino. The tables get turned and Bernie finds himself wanting to get away with Natalie, but being threatened by Shelly. The plot is simple enough, but the dialogue is genuine and the performances riveting. Even at the climax, there are several shocks and twists, enough 'good' and 'bad' luck to go around for everyone. This is one heck of an entertaining film.
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on 18 May 2016
This looks on the face of it to be a fair stab at a hard-boiled Vegas story. Strong cast and decent mainstream production values. Unfortunately it suffers from very heavy-handed direction and a ludicrous happy ending.

It's odd, because the basic story idea would make a nice old-fashioned noir if only let to run it's natural course towards a gritty downer finish in classic hard-boiled manner - the one you think it's about to deliver. Instead, it feels like the studio chickened-out and tacked-on a dumb, unlikely ( totally unbelievable actually) 'happy' switcheroo. Up until that point, despite the melodramatic tone (the characters are casino archetypes prone to delivering speeches about Lady Luck etc.), there's a pulpy logic to the trap the three main protagonists are bound by in their twilight existence. This is completely undermined by the compromised conclusion the makers have stuck us with. A lousy pay-off.

I kept thinking how much better this story would work as a stylishly Noir, period graphic novel. Not a good thought in the middle of a film.

Instead of merely referencing the demise of 'old-school' Vegas of the forties and fifties (as the script repeatedly does in a subplot about the rise of corporate management), I would have preferred a cool retro-look better suited to the pulpy nature of the story by letting these characters play-out in an early sixties setting maybe. However, the film was shot in the early naughties, so it's a mediocre contemporary glitzy look lacking the charm of period kitsch. Maybe they couldn't afford to do it any other way, but he art direction is hardly a witty, stylish take on contemporary Casino culture either. Mark Isham's jazzy soundtrack sort of nods back towards fifties noir a bit but the director has seen fit to plaster it all over the film in a way I found quite distracting right from the off. An early indicator that many such flat-footed directorial choices were to come.

For William Macy fans, your man delivers a very decent performance (playing another little man, loser-type) but this is not the cool vehicle Fargo was. No where near it. Worst luck.
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on 12 June 2015
I like practically anything with William Macy in, and this is no exception. It's a love story and, in a stark way, something of a fairy tale, with a magical ending. Bernie Lootz is unlucky, so is hired by a crooked casino boss to sit by punters who are winning and 'cool' them so that they lose. However, when he falls in love with Natalie, one of the waitresses, and becomes happy, he loses his ability and is in trouble with his boss, and the unpleasant son who has turned up wanting money. (Spoiler follows) He finds the courage to fight back, wins a shedload and escapes with Natalie and his loot. It's an ending to make you smile because everything has turned out as it should.
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