The Old School Way
Alec Baldwin puts his stamp on film forever with his portrayal of an uncompromising and ruthless casino owner in The Cooler. Another secret ingredient is the flawless original screenplay, penned by Frank Hannah and director Wayne Kramer.
Nearly the whole film takes place inside the Golden Shangri-la hotel and casino in Las Vegas. The best cooler in town, Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy), a former gambler in his time, finds himself nearing the end of his contract. This contract is actually an agreement between him and casino owner Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin). Shelly wants Bernie to stay on at his casino before it gets taken over by young entrepreneur Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston). To explain briefly what a cooler does, it’s enough to say that the mere presence of Bernie at the gambling table is sufficient to cause winners to become losers.
So, in order to maintain the stability of his casino and keep his business partners happy, Shelly hires Natalie (Maria Bello) to be Bernie’s new companion. However, Shelly does not exactly have Bernie’s best interests at heart. He wants his best cooler to stay in town. That way he can keep the money rolling in while trying to prevent his casino from being changed into a “Disney Land mook fest.” Unfortunately, the plan goes a bit pear-shaped when Bernie, smitten with his new lover, ends up transforming the luck of the gamblers at the casino from bad to good.
The Cooler stands alone with its originality, ingenuity and world-class acting. Baldwin has his moment to shine during the Lost Horizon soliloquy. The prophetic words he speaks about “paradise” and how one should never change it are so good it redefines method acting. From start to finish, Baldwin generates humour and strong emotionality that goes beyond the printed words of the film’s outstanding screenplay. This hidden gem also holds some surprises in store for those who have already experienced the Las Vegas casinos. Even without that encounter, the film still feels relevant.
Equally, The Cooler shows William H. Macy in a good light. His marvellous rendition of a down-on-his-luck, hopeless romantic proves quite endearing. Maria Bello also impresses with her brave, yet subtle portrayal of a woman caught in a dangerous situation where the outcome is never certain.
Editor Arthur Coburn leaves nothing to chance. A constant risk-taker, his work feels nicely reminiscent of old school storytelling. With long takes and montages featuring jump-cuts (which never feel jumpy), he pulls off a magnificent assembly.
Mark Isham’s classic score sets the right tone during the opening shot as the camera glides over the Vegas strip with blazing colours and huge neon signs. A splendid confection, The Cooler came completely out of left field and bowled me over within the first few minutes.
(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated "R" for strong sexuality, violence, language and some drug use.)