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flick pick | The Cooler 2003
Directed by: Wayne Kramer
Written by: Frank Hanna, Wayne Kramer
Starring: William H. Macy, Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: lovey
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis Bernie Lootz is a professional loser. His luck is so reliably horrible that for casino manager Shelly Kaplow, he's actually a good luck charm for the house. Whenever Shelly notices a customer on a winning streak, he sends Bernie in to put things back in the house's favor. No sneaky tricks necessary: Bernie just stands next to the table, and sours the luck of anyone in his vicinity. In old-school Vegas-speak, he's the cooler -- and whether by honest-to-goodness bad luck vibes, or because his negativity is somehow contagious, Bernie's the best at what he does. Walking the floor at the Shangri-la, a casino that's well past its glory days, Bernie's an integral part of the scene, but finds no joy in life in Vegas. Which is why he's decided he's leaving, as soon as he works off the last bit of an ancient gambling debt he still owes to Shelly. Shelly, naturally, will do anything to keep Bernie around. Bernie's good for business, and besides, he's a relic from the good ol' days of Sin City. Shelly's a bit of a relic himself, and finds himself feeling nostalgic for the old Vegas that was all about rich glitzy folks spending big flashy money, and not the Disney-fied theme park version aimed at the tacky tourist masses. But both Shelly and Bernie find their lives thrown for a loop when Bernie unexpectedly finds himself head-over-heels in love with a casino waitress named Natalie who, amazingly enough, seems to love him back. With love and lady luck now at his side, Bernie's suddenly heating up the tables instead of cooling them.

Review William H. Macy is the man. In the hands of just about any other actor, I'm pretty sure The Cooler would have been just another movie about a down-on-his-luck loser struggling to survive in Las Vegas. But watching Macy as Bernie Lootz, you get so much more out of his character than any of the dialogue that's being spouted on-screen. You get the lifetime of sadness that he conveys with just a look and a half-smile; moreover, you get the full sum of Macy's amazingly large body of loser roles to provide a sort of backstory for the Bernie character that the script alone never provides. Macy is just so, so good at bringing Bernie Lootz to life -- so much so that as dumbly trusting and pathetic as the character is, you can't help but sympathize with him. Macy really makes you believe that while Bernie might be a loser, he's pretty comfortable with who he is -- there's a dignity in his acceptance of his haplessness. By the time Maria Bello's pretty young(-ish) Natalie ends up falling for him (and Bello is terrific -- a little sassy, a lot vulnerable, beautiful but with a kind of hard gritty edge), it actually makes perfect sense: in all of Vegas, Bernie's the one thing that's real. And while I probably could have made it through the rest of my life without seeing Macy's pasty white buns (you have been forewarned), I have to admit: there's something indescribably satisfying about seeing one of my favorite funny-looking actors finally get the girl.
—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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