There are certain people in
the world whose luck is always bad. Complete losers.
Fate's stooges. They muddle on from disappointment to disappointment
without any hope of anything going right. People around them use them
as an example... things may be flawed in my life, but at least I'm not him.
The type of guy who in an old cartoon would be walking around with a
thundercloud above his head. To paraphrase the old song, if not for
bad luck, they'd have no luck at all.
Lootz (William H. Macy) is one of those guys. He is a recovering gambler in
his fifties with a limp from a long ago beating given due to gambling debts.
Bernie has lost his wife, become estranged from his son, never held a steady
or upstanding job. He lives in a sleazy Vegas motel, spending his
nights watching televangelists on the TV and having to listen to the hooker
next store servicing a never-ending stream of johns. He has less than
$3,000.00 life savings, all squirreled away in a coffee can in his room. Bernie's
dire mojo is so all-encompassing that he works at a Vegas casino to pay off
a debt as a cooler. If someone on the floor is in the middle of a hot
streak, all Bernie has to do is touch or interact with the gambler and
suddenly they are ice cold.
doesn't seem to mind his effect on life. He's resigned and even a
little bemused by it. His only friend in the world is Shelly (Alec
Baldwin) a tough-talking head of the Shangri-La Casino. Shelly feels
great affection for Bernie, they have been together running scams since they
were young and in certain ways Shelly likes to protect Bernie.
However, Shelly has a short fuse, a violent temper and will not be crossed
by anyone... in fact it was he who administered the beating that gave Bernie
Shelly is old school Vegas.
His casino is the last bastion for the Rat Pack feel of Sin City. He
is disgusted by the family theme park hotel-casinos that have taken over the
strip. This disgust is deepened when the owner of the hotel brings in
a Harvard business-type (Ron Livingston) to rejuvenate the place.
Everything starts to change
for Bernie when he meets Natalie (Maria Bello), a struggling cocktail
waitress who works at the Shangri-La. At first, the naturally gloomy
Bernie can't believe that she would like him, but as they get to know each
other he finds himself falling in love. Even more unexpected to Bernie
is that she seems to feel the same way. Suddenly, Bernie feels like a
in his life. The problem is, a new happy-go-lucky Bernie is no longer
bad news on the casino floor. Suddenly, everywhere he goes, people are
hitting jackpots. Needless to say, this concerns and angers Shelly.
The acting of the leads is
superlative. No one does middle-aged angst better than Macy, and his
Bernie is a complicated, multi-layered character. He makes you
like him even when you pity him, and when his life starts to turn around,
you really hope for him to break away from his old ways. Baldwin does
his best work in years as Shelly. He is a man desperately clinging to
his job and the past, and yet, he often turns out to be suddenly violent,
casually cruel and heartless.
Bello does a wonderful and
selfless job as Natalie, she is one of several glamorous actresses this
winter who is willing to add weight, lose the make-up and look unattractive
to play an interesting role. (See also: Jennifer Connelly in House
of Sand & Fog, Naomi Watts in 21 Grams and Charlize Theron in
Monster.) Natalie was a teen who gave up her baby to adoption and
moved to Vegas to become a showgirl; years later she is struggling to make a
living serving drinks. (In a story she tells Bernie, she intimates
that she is about 28, but honestly the character looks to be at least in her
The Cooler is a very
good, but not flawless, film. Honestly, I think it went on a bit past
the point where the story was fascinating. It relied a bit too much on
coincidence – particularly Bernie running into his long-estranged son in a
restaurant and a late development with a drunk driver. Then again, a
film about gambling would have to know that everything in the world is just
dumb luck, so I'll let that slide.
other slight problem I had for was the basic premise for the story. The whole idea
of a cooler, while whimsically interesting, in the long run works to the
detriment of the film. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I don't know if there are really such people in
casinos. However, I do know that while I was watching the film, I had
a hard time believing a smart, no-nonsense exec like Shelly would rely so
completely on superstition and sheer circumstance.
flaws don't matter that much in the long run though. The plusses in
The Cooler way overshadow the minuses. It gives an interesting
look at a world in Vegas that is quickly disappearing.
It is also a quietly touching little love story of two life-long losers who
finally rolled a seven. (12/03)
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 10, 2004.