Over all The Cooler was a film that was a welcomed alternative to the big block busters

The Cooler has heart

The Cooler

For some the god the worship is luck, the cathedral is the casino. For these individuals, the addictive gambler the next roll of the dice, the next card is all there world consists of, it is their entire existence. This is the world Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) inhabits. For those that view gambling as their religion Bernie is the devil, a man with such incredible bad luck that it is almost literally contagious, The Cooler.

The blues line ‘if it wasn’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have no luck at all’ perfectly describes Bernie. Bernie is employed at the Shangri-La casino, wandering the floor looking for people on a winning streak. Just by brushing his unlucky hand lightly on their back winning turns to loss. His boss, Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) is somewhat of a contradiction. Although he had the hapless Bernie kneecapped for a debt, Shelly paid for his hospital bills and put him on the payroll as The Cooler. Shelly treads the thin line between an almost paternal affection and the cruelty inherit in his line of business. Employees like Buddy Stafford (Paul Sorvino), a broken down heroine addicted comic pepper his payroll. Although capable of heinous acts Shelly has a wide sentimental streak.

There is an amazing contrast set up between Shelly and Bernie. Both men a somewhat stuck in their lives but both have an undeniable core of true humanity. Actually, this is what makes The Cooler work, the degree of faulty human characters. There are no action heroes here, no men picking themselves up to rise above adversity, simply people coping with the hand that life has dealt.

Case in point is the relationship between Bernie and a waitress named Natalie (Maria Bello). To thank him for helping her get a better job Natalie rewards Bernie with sex. While this could have been done in typical Hollywood style, perfect shots of perfect bodies, here the scene comes across as lonely human beings reaching out for the visceral, sensual need for contact. The MPAA had a lot of problems with this scene but thankfully it appears almost intact. The emotional impact here is incredible. It is not a gratuitous scene like Hollywood is so often prone to, it is a pivotal moment in Bernie’s life, and something actually went right for him. For once he could smile and actually mean it. No matter how your life has turned out there aspects of the characters here that are identifiable. The audience is drawn into this world and almost immediately begins to care about the characters.

The Cooler has a really incredible cast. William H. Macy has played this type of hapless characters for much of his career. The difference between his style and so many other actors is the innate humanity Macy can project is touching. I thought a lot about a recent Macy role where he portrayed a handicapped man selling items door to door. Sure you feel sorry for the character but underneath it all you sense the hope that resides there. This man possesses a depth of talent that is so rare today. This is perhaps one of the best performances that Alec Baldwin has even given. The way he handles the dichotomy of Shelly is enthralling. He reveals the inner motivation of his character not overtly but with a subtle progression of a characters personal developmental arc. Many may remember Maria Bello in her roles in television’s E.R. or the lamented Duets. Here her performance reveals a natural talent, a manner that places the audience at ease and lets us understand Natalie. After all why should an attractive young woman be draw to the likes of Bernie? Bello helps us to see why, it is the need in both people reaching out for something real in a town where illusion rules. What really places The Cooler above so many others is the way these actors work with each other. There are no star moments, the cast pulls together supporting and reassuring each other to the betterment of the project. They make potential stereotypes into real people.

South African director Wayne Kramer may not have a long and illustrious resume yet but I have no doubt it will grow nicely. He handles this film with loving care and attention to detail that is largely lost in the modern devotion to computer driven special effects. The Cooler is a film by human beings for human beings. Kramer lets the audience sink into the world he portrays. We are immersed in the sets and surrounded by incredible performances. Each frame of The Cooler was carefully crafted to support the underlying mood. You can almost feel the casino around you. The lighting is divided between the garish casino lights and the softer more intimate illumination of those moments that really drive the film. Here is a director that is not an ego trip, he seems willing to let the far more experience cast work towards presenting the best possible film they can turn in. With so many music video directors hitting the big screen it is refreshing to see someone that seems to know, and more importantly, care about film calling the shots.

Typical of Loin’s Gate the presentation of The Cooler DVD is exceptional. The attention paid to the mastering is obvious. The Dolby 5.1 audio is crisp, each little clink of ice in a drink audible, the sound of cards being shuffled all add to the over all ambience. While not a film prone to a lot of sub woofer action the balance between the speakers is well done, it suitably creates a world and enhances the mood of the film. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is nicely presented. The colors palette is fairly straight forward and permits the audience to enjoy the performances without distraction. The extras include several deleted scenes and a better than average ‘anatomy of a scene’ featurette. This gives the viewers an understanding of the symbiotic interaction between cast and crew that makes this film work. I found the cast and crew commentary better than most I’ve recently come across. Rather than the usual back patting the cast and crew turn a critical eye on their own work giving a little insight into what went into the production. Over all The Cooler was a film that was a welcomed alternative to the big block busters, it has heart.

Review by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com

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