The Cooler

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner16/06/2004

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 101 mins

The odd flash of inspiration and great performances from all three leads, but unfortunately neither the direction nor the plot can do justice to the intriguing premise.

The Cooler is the first feature from South African born writer-director Wayne Kramer and, sadly, it shows, to the point where you’re left wondering what Steven Soderbergh or Doug Liman might have done with the same material. That said, Kramer did manage to direct Alec Baldwin to a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and is reputedly now in hot demand as a result, so it’s safe to say we’ll be hearing his name again.

Loser Finally Gets Lucky

William H. Macy (surely a man born to play cinematic losers) plays Bernie Lootz, a schmuck with an unlucky streak so bad that he’s employed as a casino ‘cooler’ – that is, whenever anyone has a winning streak, all Bernie has to do is stand next to them for their luck to run out. Bernie’s boss is Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin), who treats Lootz as an old friend and once paid off his massive gambling debt, though not without a little friendly knee-capping between buddies first.

Shelly has his own problems, in that The Suits (including Ron Livingston) are attempting to persuade him to upgrade his ‘old school’ casino and put in a rollercoaster, so he’s none too pleased when Bernie announces his intention of leaving once his debt is repaid. However, when Bernie falls for embittered cocktail waitress Natalie (Maria Bello), he gets lucky in more ways than one and suddenly his usefulness to the casino comes to a premature end…

The central premise of a man whose bad luck streak finally comes to an end is an intriguing one and although Kramer milks it for maximum romance, the story itself is disappointing and the script fails to exploit its full potential. It also gets bogged down in the needless subplot of Bernie’s scrounging son (Shawn Hatosy), who falls foul of Kaplow and co.

Terrific Performances From Leads

On the plus side, the performances by all three leads are terrific and Macy and Bello have genuine chemistry together. The sex scenes are also well directed and are notable for being naturalistic (real people with real, flabby bodies – the sex is sometimes awkward, sometimes funny), although those of a nervous disposition, be warned: you will get to see Bill Macy’s balls…

That said, the violence in the film is quite strong and almost feels like it belongs in another movie – certainly Kramer misjudges the tone of those scenes and risks alienating the audience at that point.

In short, The Cooler is definitely worth seeing for the performances, but it’s likely to emerge as one of those films where you come out of it and immediately start thinking of ways in which it could have been better.

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Content updated: 20/07/2019 09:42

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