Riddled with hackneyed plot elements and melodramatic overtones, only the outstanding performances of a couple actors rescues The Cooler (2003) from a morass of mediocrity. The film stars William H. Macy as Bernie Lootz, a lifetime loser with the fantastical power to steal, or “cooler,” anyone’s good luck. Alec Baldwin is also great as Shelly Kaplow, the mercurial and often amoral casino manager who desperately clings to Las Vegas’ dying ways. Lootz’s love interest, Natalie Belisario, played by Maria Bello, is simply another one of Sin City’s lost souls. Despite these actors, the film has too many basic flaws and loose ends to be any more than second-rate.
One of The Cooler’s few strengths is its portrayal of Las Vegas and the gambling driven life represented by its central characters. The film is periodically punctuated by great exterior shots of Vegas and its picturesque casinos. The camera alternately flies over, drives through, and cowers beneath Sin City’s massive ocean of neon. Director Mike Figgis also spends a great deal of effort establishing a seemingly perpetual background of night, which nicely adds to the fatalistic themes of the movie.
Although The Cooler is awash in a sea of gambling, it is essentially a love story. It is the interjection of Natalie into Lootz’s life that changes his luck. As the two fall in love, despite the long odds, both manage to pull themselves from the neon quicksand that has threatened to drown them for years.
Final Grade: C