Sunday, September 30, 2012

"The Cooler" with Maria Bello, William Macy and Alec Baldwin (2004)

Nobody does apathy better than William H. Macy. His characters are always a bit removed from the action; even when he is the center of it he manages to evoke the helplessness we all feel at some point of time in our lives.

In “The Cooler” he uses this ability to bring to life the character of Bernie Lootz, a man so unlucky that he is working as a “cooler” in an old established gambling casino in Las Vegas, which is just about to change from the mob controlled town of the 1960’s and 70’s, to the corporate “glitz” which it has become. No one is more unhappy about this than Bernie’s boss, Shelly Kaplow, played by Alec Baldwin, who, along with Bernie, has been in Vegas from the beginning. And, in the process, the old adage “Lucky at cards, unlucky in love” gets turned upside down in this understated film about life, luck and love.  

When Bernie falls into debt with friend; casino owner Shelly; and can’t pay him back in time, Shelley has his leg broken. The two remain “friends” and Shelley offers him a job as a “cooler” in the casino; that is, he is the guy who comes up to the table and helps to break other patrons winning streaks. He does this by a combination of means, but mostly, he is just bad luck for whoever he is around, including himself.
When he begins to think that he should just leave town, Shelly pays cocktail waitress Natalie Belisario, played by the stunning Maria Bello, to fall in love with him. But the problem is that she really does. Bernie is the first man she has ever met who didn’t want something of her. Her affection for him quickly turns to love, which only serves to make Bernie feel like any man who is in love does; lucky.

Of course, this new found confidence makes him a liability for Shelly, as all the people in the casino start to win. When Bernie’s long estranged son Mikey shows up with his “pregnant” girlfriend in tow, Bernie gives him some money to get on his feet. The son uses that money to cheat at the casino, causing Shelly to re-act in the expected way. He is going to have him killed. This puts Bernie at odds with Shelly, who has already realized that Bernie’s luck has changed, making him unnecessary to Shelly any longer.

Paul Sorvino, who usually plays a mobster, portrays Buddy Stafford, a drug addicted lounge singer in what may be one of the most sensitive roles he has ever tackled. He is a beaten man and knows it. But, Shelly keeps him supplied with heroin in order to keep him working, as well as keep his own illusions alive. When Buddy overdoses it is almost symbolic of the changes that are about to occur in Las Vegas, as the old gives way to the new.
The confrontation between Shelly and Bernie reaches a stunning climax as Bernie is forced to choose between luck and love.

Note: IMDB lists the release date of this film as 2003,; however, the DVD shows the release date to be 2004. I have chosen to use the date on the DVD.

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