William H. Macy gets a rare lead role in The Cooler, a slick and entertaining comedy-drama from director Wayne Kramer. This movie will undoubtedly become known as one of the more overlooked films of 2003.
Macy stars as Bernie Lootz, a man who has such bad luck that a casino pays him to walk around and cool down big winners at the tables (hence the title of the movie). However, having down this for decades, he wants out of Las Vegas for good, but, of course, the casino manager, Shelly (Alec Baldwin), doesn't want to lose his biggest asset and will go to great lengths to keep him around. Complicating the matter even further is Natalie (Maria Bello), a beautiful waitress that for some reason sees the inner beauty in the loser that Bernie is. Soon, Bernie's luck begins to change, but will it pay off in the end?
Many critics have said that The Cooler is one of the better Las Vegas films, and they may be right. It has at least a little of everything. Though never hilarious, the entire movie has a subtle comedic flare, helped, of course, by Macy, who is known for his quirky characters. More often than not, though, the movie is dramatic and almost moving, especially when Baldwin's character, though by no means a respectable man, tries to defend his old style casino from the glamour and commercialization of the 21st century. On top of all of that are remnants of casino thugs, some lucky gambling and more.
Most notable about The Cooler is the acting, which has some of the best. Macy is pretty much spectacular in everything that he is in, though he never really receives much credit; he is usually a supporting character that gets overlooked. Macy is funny at times and serious at times, but never dark; he is just a man that has little control over his luck.
Stealing the show, however, is Baldwin, who seems to be making a quiet comeback for himself. Having done very little in the last few years, he has done three movies in the last six months - this one, 2004's Along Came Polly, where he plays a sleazy boss, and 2003's utterly forgettable The Cat in the Hat, where he plays a sleazy neighbor. Here, he plays a sleazy and violent casino manager, and he does it to perfection. Many actors would kill for a role like this, one where the character does have a good side but still gets to be violent and spout out what seems like hundreds of classic lines. Baldwin is utterly entertaining to watch.
The movie itself is also pretty good, though a little different than what I expected. I was expecting more of a comedy and instead got a drama with some laughs. All is good, but I was thrown for a loop. After learning about the plot of the movie, I thought for sure it would just be a goofy film, but instead manages to be much more. The good and bad luck scenes are classic to watch, and the rest of the movie is even better.
I must say that the scene that almost shows Macy's testicles is quite unnecessary.
The Cooler is an entertaining drama that manages a great blend of drama and laughs. It is consistently captivating from beginning to end, and while it isn't powerful enough to earn a lot of awards, should still be given recognition.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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