The Cooler directed by Wayne Kramer is a solid feature length debut that explores the seedy underbelly of Vegas. Sure, other films have been there before and have been great movies (Hard Eight, Casino) but The Cooler has a slightly different twist on the genre with its focus mainly being on the romance of a rather unlikely couple.Bernie Lootz (William H Macy) is the world’s unluckiest guy. His luck is so rotten that it is actually infectious, a trait that has landed him a depressing job in a smoky old-school casino that involves sharing tables with high rollers in order to turn their winning streak sour. His job is not so much to make a living but mainly to pay off an enormous debt to the casino’s violent mafia linked boss Shelly (Alec Baldwin). Things are going smoothly until Bernie meets the attractive yet hardened waitress Natalie (Maria Bello) and, despite their differences, they fall hopelessly in love with each other. Shelly does not approve of Bernie’s new found happiness as it seems to have a detrimental effect on his fortune turning gift and he is definitely not a man you would want to upset. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the mob who own the casino are on Shelly’s back to make more money by converting it into an dazzling attraction like the rest of The Strip. Shelly despises what the majority of Vegas has become and will do anything to cling onto the past through his casino.
The performances in The Cooler are outstanding. William H Macy proves once again that he is the king of playing a lovable loser who is in way over his head. Alec Baldwin is intense and genuinely frightening as the desperate Shelly. Maria Bello also shines in her role as a determined woman trying to overcome one too many broken dreams. Kramer delivers a stylish film that mixes inventive visual flair with nods to noir films of the past. This is all complemented by a saxophone driven soundtrack that suits the smoke filled casino and sleazy motel scenes perfectly.
The Cooler may not have the impact of Casino or the complexity of Hard Eight but it still ranks highly as far as Vegas flicks are concerned.Despite its dark mood and occasional strong violence The Cooler is essentially a romance and on that level it's definitely one of the surprise packages of the year.
This film is available for download or online viewing at CinemaNow.com For more in the CinemaNow.com series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.