6 out of 10
The Misfortune Of Good Luck
In it's opening moments, "The Cooler" seems one of those late night nothing else to watch on tv type of movies that you might suspect may really be an HBO special that some how appeared in the cinema. It however contains a few surprises and although with a sometimes too dark and a worse-for-wear storyline, has a some worthy and amusing moments, captivating sequences and a love story that makes it an at least somewhat well-spent 101 minutes.
Written and directed by South African Wayne Kramer (Mindhunters) and first-time Scottish screenwriter Frank Hannah, it centers around Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy), a man who is so unlucky, his misfortune has become contagious. Working to pay off his gambling debts to suave but shifty Las Vegas casino owner Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) at the upscale Shangri-La, Lootz stands by the tables each night to "cool" off customers on a winning streak, triggering them to lose with just his aura of hopelessness. As if Lootz's life could not get worse, Kaplow decides as he is nearly cleared his tab at Shangri-La to hire cocktail waitress and down on her luck actress hopeful Nathalie Belisario (Maria Bello) to keep Lootz from leaving town. Unexpectedly, the two fall hopelessly in love with some unforseen consequences and in a reversal of the old saying "Lucky at cards, unlucky at love," love turns him into a lucky charm.
At it's heart, it is a piece meant to capture those moments in life when one feels as if their luck will never turn around and about the transformative power of love. Written when Kramer and Hannah were going through difficult times, they created a character to personify the spirit of luck (both good and bad) and who would represent that eerie feeling experienced by many casino-goers have experienced of an outside force that has seemingly stacked the dice against them. Made with the support of Bello and film producer Scott Furst, it contains some heartfelt and tender moments, hilarious episodes and a surprise ending with a twist for all characters involved.
William H Macy is excellent, with his expression of loss and defeat. He has a personality made for the role of Lootz and was the inspiration for the picture. Baldwin also, like Al Pacino in "Scarface," is vicious as the heartless and power hungry Kaplow, who¹s only act of goodness brings about his final destruction. The supporting cast including Canadian actress Estelle Warren as Lootz's pregnant daughter-in-law Charlene and Paul Sorvino as washed up singer Buddy Stafford are also worthy of note.
Despite being an exaggeration of real life, through the filming and release of "The Cooler" reality has immitated art. Baldwin, who was the largest name in the cast but with the least notable and most predictable performance, was unfortunately the one one to be nominated for an Oscar, overlooking stellar performances by other actors like Macy and Sorvino. Also, in a stroke of luck for Kramer, they were able to film in a casino in the style of the old elegant establishments that Baldwin's character Shelly Kaplow so charished. Arrogant and vain, the Shangri-La, Kaplow hoped for a discreet place where the rich in dinner jackets could quietly squander away their fortunes - a place where he could reign as a king and which would gives him an elevated sense of who he was, a sort of borrowed nobility which was the opposite of the kindhearted nature and goodness of Lootz. The picture was filmed at the old style Flamingo Reno, a place which, like Kaplow feared in the film, was to be renovated following the release of "The Cooler," and be replaced by a casino of a completely different style.
At it's best, Kramer and Hannah create a parody of the gambling world, cleverly illustrating the rise and fall of emotions and the excitement on the casino floor but the loniless, emptiness and dark underworld of power and corruption at times overwhelm the picture and the innocence of Macy's performance. Sadly, the qualities that set "The Cooler" apart are not consistant and, even with Macy and Bello, what could have been an uplifting and otherwise feelgood movie is often marred by the inappropriate use of gratuitious sex and violence and one dimensional supporting trailer trash characters mirred in the hopelessness of Las Vegas.
Film Critic:Jennifer M Lillies