The Cooler, released in 2003, may have slipped under many people’s radar, and yet it was nominated for an Oscar and has won numerous awards. Sitting nicely in the crime and drama genre, it also incorporates elements of fantasy and romance, making it an odd but entertaining movie, certainly worth a watch.
The storyline centres around Bernie Lootz, known as a person with absolutely no luck in Las Vegas, a long time loser whose atrocious luck is apparently contagious. This brings him to the attention of the mobster gambling houses, who use him to ruin any high roller’s success. However, things change dramatically when he gains a share of “Lady Luck”, having fallen head over heels for a beautiful employee, throwing the situation in to reverse. The casino boss hopes to destroy the love affair with ruthless and increasingly violent actions, leading to a thrilling climax.
This is a real old world gangster movie, harking back to the Las Vegas mob era, when gambling was a serious business, not to be taken lightly, with an air of threats and violence lurking under the bright lights. The cast of flawed characters all have something to hide, none of them are particularly likeable, but definitely watchable thanks to some fine performances from the actors.
The success of this movie owes much to the director, Wayne Kramer, and surprisingly not only was it his first feature film, but he also co-wrote it. He has since gone on to direct other well-known movies, all with his trademark of a heavy emphasis on violence and sexuality.
The main character of Bernie Lotz is expertly played by William H. Macy, a well-respected TV and movie actor, with a reputation for playing losers. Viewers may have to suspend belief that the beautiful girl falls in love with him, as he delivers an outstanding performance as a middle-aged, unattractive character.
The romantic interest is well handled by Maria Bello, taking the role of Natalie Belisario, a cocktail waitress with a hidden past. Her sympathetic style of acting adds much to the character making her a leading player in the movie.
Taking the role of Shelly Kaplow, Alec Baldwin really is the main reason to watch this movie, creating a ruthless man without scruples capable of intense violence to get what he wants. His ability to change from a smooth, suave, sophisticated character to a brutal obsessive earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. The three leads work incredibly well together, with an effective script and abrasive language, giving a realistic edge to the movie.
That is not to say the movie is without flaws, it is hard to believe the premise of a person being able to spread good or bad luck simply by standing next to them, and this aspect detracts from the otherwise gritty realism. The dialogue can be a little corny at times, and the cinematography was nothing special, but these minor irritations can be forgiven in light of the solid performances. Viewers with an open mind who are not disturbed by the graphic sexual and violent scenes will enjoy this movie, for is superb performances and bittersweet ending.