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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.
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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