The Cooler


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Rating: R

William H. Macy as Bernie Lootz
Alec Baldwin as Shelly Kaplow
Maria Bello as Natalie Belisario
Shawn Hatosy as Mikey
Ron Livingston as Larry Sokolov
Paul Sorvino as Buddy Stafford
Estella Warren as Charlene
Arthur J. Nascarella as Nicky ‘Fingers’ Bonnatto
Joey Fatone as Johnny Cappella
M.C. Gainey as Highway Officer
Ellen Greene as Doris
Don Scribner as Lou
Tony Longo as Tony
Richard Israel as Marty Goldfarb

Special Features:
Commentary by director/co-writer Wayne Kramer, co-writer Frank Hannah, and cinematographer Jim Whitaker

Commentary by director/co-writer Wayne Kramer and composer Mark Isham

Sundance Channel’s “Anatomy of a Scene”

Storyboard comparisons

Music-only track in 5.1 Dolby

Other Info:
Widescreen Anamorphic
Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound

Bernie Lootz is employed as a “cooler” at a Las Vegas casino. Bernie’s luck is so incredibly bad that he can kill the luck of any winner in the casino simply by being near them. Whenever someone starts winning big, casino boss and mobster Shelly Kaplow sends Bernie over to “cool” things off. This gives Shelly an edge in keeping his casino profitable. This is especially important for him when a young upstart tries to take over the casino and give it a makeover from it’s traditional, old school operation.

Down on his luck and sick of Las Vegas, Bernie is ready to leave town. But when casino waitress Natalie Belisario shows interest in Bernie, things start picking up for him. Before he knows it, he has fallen in love with Natalie. Bernie’s luck begins to change and he loses his cooling abilities. But what will Shelly do when he finds that his cooler has lost his magical touch?

The Cooler is rated R for strong sexuality, violence, language and some drug use.

The Movie:
The Cooler has an interesting story. It is the tale of a loser who finds love and turns his luck around despite everything going against him. Most of the time that you have a story about an underdog winning in the end, you have an entertaining tale. The Cooler is no exception. Throwing in the additional twist of Bernie having a magical bad luck touch gives it an extra hook that keeps things unique and engaging. It’s funny to see him simply touch a roulette wheel and cause people to lose. His luck is so bad that you half expect to see a line of black cats constantly walking in front of him.

William H. Macy plays this lovable loser. He has long been a favorite actor of mine, so I liked his character in The Cooler. Macy introduces Bernie as a guy resigned to his fate. He knows his luck sucks and he seems to accept that. It makes him miserable, yet he seems to find some comfort in the fact that he has a purpose. It’s also a treat to see him come alive when he falls in love with Natalie. She is played by Maria Bello (who I remember from E.R.). Bello plays Natalie with the right mixture of trashiness and goodness to make her likable and still believable. Bello and Macy also seem to have good on-screen chemistry that makes you believe that this hot waitress could fall for a significantly older, down-on-his-luck loser.

Alec Baldwin supports the two as Shelly. Baldwin was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in this film. I have to say he didn’t do much for me as this character. In the first part he seems to be doing a bad Frank Sinatra impression. In the second half he just acts angry all the time. In between he says “f**k” a lot to remind you he’s a mobster. I don’t know what was noteworthy enough about him to earn a nomination, but there you have it. Estella Warren also pops up in a cameo role as the trashy Charlene. She was pretty good as the character. Also appearing is Paul Sorvino as Buddy Stafford, a heroin addicted lounge singer. His is one of the more disturbing roles in the film.

As good as the story and characters were, the graphic sex scenes in the movie marred it for me. The Cooler was hailed for its “realistic” sex scenes, yet it seemed like nothing more than graphic nudity to me. The creators explain the nudity and sex as a way to show how much Bernie and Natalie are in love. However, we seem them frolicking butt nekkid so many times that it loses any effect of showing their relationship. We got the point after the first time. The rest wasn’t necessary to the plot. However, if you’d like to see William H. Macy’s scrotum, this movie is for you. For me, it wasn’t so necessary. Throw in some violence and it was enough to drag the movie down so that I wouldn’t recommend it despite my fondness for the lead actors.

The Extras:
There are a few extras included on this DVD:

Commentary by director/co-writer Wayne Kramer, co-writer Frank Hannah, and cinematographer Jim Whitaker – This is the more interesting of the two commentaries. The three creators get into detail about things you may have missed while you initially viewed the movie. They talk about the use of color in certain scenes, hidden touches in the background, and more. Kramer also talks a lot about the nude scenes and how he almost got an NC-17 rating for them. You’ll also hear about how the actors came up with ideas for their characters on the spot.

Commentary by director/co-writer Wayne Kramer and composer Mark Isham – This commentary is entirely focused on the music. Unless you’re interested in jazz or movie scores, this probably has nothing of interest for you. Kramer and Isham talk about their inspirations for the music and how it played as a character in the film.

Sundance Channel’s “Anatomy of a Scene” – This episode of the excellent Sundance series focuses on the scene in The Cooler where Bernie’s luck finally turns around. Incredibly thorough, the show talks about the script, the costumes, the actors, the cinematography, the editing, and more. It’s really insightful and should help young filmmakers. They pointed out all sorts of interesting things about the film like the fact that Bernie’s suit changes size as his mood changes. It’s oversized when he’s depressed and it’s more colorful and fits right when he’s happy. I thought it was cool touch (though I didn’t notice it in the movie).

Storyboard comparisons – This shows the storyboards and the final version of the scene side by side as they play. It’s a standard DVD feature.

The Bottom Line:
The Cooler is an interesting, quirky story with good acting, but that’s not enough to offset gratuitous nudity that drags the movie down.