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1 item from 2003

The Cooler

21 January 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

PARK CITY -- "The Cooler" couldn't be hotter. A rousing crowd-pleaser at Sundance, this noir love story rolls both sweet and tough. The title refers to a casino job in old-style Las Vegas, namely an employee who is dispatched by the house to "cool off" a big winner -- to see to it that the guy doesn't walk away with any more dough. No sixes or sevens or nines here -- a distributor will roll only luck with this winner, a select-site jackpot.

Starring William H. Macy as a hangdog "cooler," Alec Baldwin as a ruthless casino boss and Maria Bello as a cocktail waitress with a heart of gold, "The Cooler" is a refreshing throwback to another era of moviemaking: This movie was poured from the bottle, not one of those bar regulator machines. It's got the kick, style and flavor of a straight-up story, before movies were watered down with the opinions of marketers, lawyers and committee heads.

There's also a flush hand of story aces sleeved up in this old-style cinematic: The frog as prince, the old gunslinger as guardian against the encroaching modern world and the down-on-her-luck blonde whose heart of gold wins the day. There's no sleight of hand in this hard-edged yarn, and that's what is most appealing about screenwriters Frank Hannah and Wayne Kramer's soundly crafted tale. It hits the right points and pays off spectacularly.

Set in the unfashionable old section of Las Vegas, far away from Steve Wynn's glitzy/artsy strip, "The Cooler" draws us behind the glitz and shows the dark behind the neon, the little people below the headliners and high rollers. In this gritty yarn, Macy stars as Bernie Lootz, a hangdog so down on his luck and confidence that he is the walking embodiment of a loser. That's the trait that now pays his bills: He's hired by a sharkish casino owner (Baldwin) to "cool" down the big winners; indeed, Lootz is such a loser that his aura of bad luck seems to roll off onto the winners.

Living in a tiny studio apartment, Lootz is nondescript and has a limp, courtesy of old gambling debts to none other than his boss. He has been working off his gambling debt for years and has only a few days of servitude left at the casino before he plans to bolt for a new life. Not surprisingly, the kingpin is not about to let him go and is under corporate pressure from the suit-type owners to get into the new mainstream of Las Vegas entertainment, namely the family/events emphasis that the new Vegas is all about. He loathes the new M.B.A. Harvard-heads, which makes this cutthroat very endearing.

Under Kramer's inspired direction, Macy is terrific as the down-on-his-luck cooler. In his gait and dreary expression, Macy embodies a spirit who has been beaten down to one last roll of the dice yet still holds a tiny ounce of self-preserving moxie for one final turn at life's tables.

With his piercing gaze and hair-trigger temper, Baldwin wallops with a mesmerizing performance that recalls his "Glengarry Glen Ross" turn. Steely, charming and dangerous, Baldwin is truly fearsome. A producer would be smart to cast this guy as Frank Sinatra.

As the vulnerable cocktail waitress, Bello magically strips her performance down to the scars beneath the surface. She's a lady without the luck but one who is not afraid to take on the odds. She trumps a cliche part with a flesh-and-blood performance.

Technical credits deserve top billing: From the smartly awful ties of Macy's hangdog threads, courtesy of costume designer Kristen M. Burke, to the shrewdly scoped compositions, lensed by cinematographer James Whitaker, the technical contributions are all headliners. A round on the house to composer Mark Isham. The musical sounds are as true as the rocks clinking in a 3 a.m. Scotch and water, topped off by the perfect mix of a smudgy trumpet and a blowsy sax. Also, a round to Paul Sorvino, who shows off his pipes as an Old Blue Eyes imitation lounger.

The Cooler


Credits: Director: Wayne Kramer; Screenwriters: Frank Hannah, Wayne Kramer; Producers: Sean Furst, Michael Pierce; Executive producers: Edward R. Pressman, John Schmidt, Alessandro Camon, Brett Morrison, Robert Gryphon, Joe Madden; Co-producers: Elliot Lewis Rosenblatt, Bryan Furst; Director of photography: James Whitaker; Editor: Arthur Coburn; Production designer: Toby Corbett; Costume designer: Kristen M. Burke; Music: Mark Isham; Casting: Amanda Mackey Johnson, Cathy Sandrich Gelfond, Wendy Weidman, Sig De Migual. Cast: Bernie Lootz: William H. Macy; Shelly Kaplow: Alec Baldwin; Natalie Belisario: Maria Bello; Mikey: Shawn Hatosy; Larry Sokolov: Ron Livingston; Buddy Stafford: Paul Sorvino; Charlene: Estella Warren.

No MPAA rating, running time 103 minutes.


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1 item from 2003

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