Sunday, March 13, 2011

Review: "The Cooler" is an Odd Romance with Good Performances (Happy B'day, William H. Macy)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 63 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Cooler (2003)
Running time: 101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong sexuality, violence, language and some drug use
DIRECTOR: Wayne Kramer
WRITERS: Frank Hannah and Wayne Kramer
PRODUCERS: Sean Furst and Michael Pierce
CINEMATOGRAPHER: James Whitaker (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Arthur Coburn
COMPOSER: Mark Isham
Academy Award nominee


Starring: William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello, Shawn Hatosy, Ron Livingston, Paul Sorvino, Estella Warren, Arthur J. Nascarella, and Joey Fatone

Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) may be the unluckiest man in Las Vegas, and an old debt keeps him in bondage to his “friend” Shelly Caplow (Alec Baldwin, who received an Oscar® nomination for this supporting role), the crooked casino director of the Shangri-La. The Shangri-La is one of the last mob-run casinos in town, and Shelly uses Bernie as a “cooler,” a casino operative whose contagious bad luck knocks out casino high rollers on a win streak at a table or a slot machine. If that wasn’t enough drama, Bernie falls in love with a cocktail waitress named Natalie Belisario (Maria Bello), and her love and good, hot sex shorts out Bernie’s bad karma, much to Shelly’s chagrin.

The Cooler is a crime drama and romance with a peculiar mood. Though heavily downbeat, the film nevertheless has considerable strength as a romance. While Macy and Ms. Bello, on the surface, may seem to have little by which to connect, they develop tremendous screen chemistry, and it’s actually nice to watch the relationship between the characters grow before our eyes. Actually Ms. Bello’s performance really isn’t all that good (isn’t bad, either), but like a lot of elements in this film, her performance is well-used by director Wayne Kramer, a little-known South African-born director. This film could have died early in the story because Bernie is almost too pitiful to bare and the film’s best love scene happens quite early in the film, but Kramer deftly drives the dramatic narrative.

The Cooler is cleverly paced, and the film has some of the best shot composition I’ve seen in awhile. In fact, the rich color photography by Jim Whitaker and the film editing by Arthur Coburn really looks like classic black and white film noir, not to mention Mark Isham’s fabulous noir-ish jazz score. Somewhat underrated and largely ignored at the box office, The Cooler is an odd kind of romance that should have special appeal to those who like to see the homely guy get the girl, and with fine performances by Macy and Baldwin (a really good actor), this film is worth it.

8 of 10

2004 Academy Awards: 1 nominations: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Alec Baldwin)

2004 Golden Globes: 2 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Alec Baldwin) and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Maria Bello)


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