Cooler, The

Released: 2003
Stars: William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello, Shawn Hatosy, Ron Livingston, Paul Sorvino, Estella Warren, Joey Fatone
Director: Wayne Kramer
Screenwriters: Wayne Kramer, Frank Hannah

Kicking off the Los Angeles Film Festival this year is The Cooler, a clever, often funny drama set in an old-style Las Vegas casino, which had tongues wagging ever since it got picked up for distribution by Lions Gate at the Sundance Film Festival. Helping in this regard were the heavyweights attached: William H. Macy and Alec Baldin.

The Lowdown: Macy plays Bernie Lootz, a guy with such bad luck that he’s employed by Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) to walk the floor at the Golden Shangri-La as a “cooler”, spoiling the luck of any player on a winning streak at the gaming tables. Bernie’s been working for Shelly for six years to repay an old gambling debt and is counting the days to his retirement when he can leave town and start a new life. At the last moment, though, Bernie falls in love with cocktail waitress Natalie (Maria Bello) and his luck starts to change turning him into more of a liability than a reliable asset to the high-strung Shelly. Complicating Bernie’s life is the appearance of duplicitous nephew Mikey (Shawn Hatosy) and his pregnant girlfriend (Estella Warren).

Alec Baldwin is briliant as Shelly, the casino’s seedy operations director; he’s the kind of guy who’ll do anything to stay in the black, even busting up a guy’s legs if he’s caught cheating (as with Mikey) or just over-extended (Bernie in his earlier days). But the one thing Shelly is reluctant to do is take the high road and turn the Golden Shangri-La into one of those family picnic casinos that’s cropped up all over the strip. In reference to this, Shelly’s lines are some of the funniest in the film. Still, Shelly is all business, all the time and his brutality is stunning.

No spring chicken, Macy gets naked with co-star Bello in some surprisingly detailed scenes. The screening I saw had the film rated NC17 (under appeal and expected to be released with slightly cleaned up version for an R-rating) depicted full-frontal nudity for Bello but a convenient hand covering Macy’s genitalia, keeping alive the double standard in film nudity that always exists in mainstream Hollywood. Otherwise, both are excellent with many poignant scenes between them. And sometimes, all it takes is a shot of Macy’s hangdog face to elicit chuckles from the audience.

Lotta says: The Cooler has the gritty look of an low budget independent film whose true quality comes from a fine script and terrific talent. Also features Paul Sorvino as an old-school singer getting ready to be dumped by the establishment; Ron Livingston plays the casino’s new management. Contains strong violence, language, nudity and fairly explicit sexuality.

Studio: Lions Gate Films
Production Company: ContentFilm, Furst Films, Gryphon Films
Release Date: July 2003

Reviewed: June 12, 2003