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The Cooler (18)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director and composer commentary; Director and cinematographer commentary; Documentary: Anatomy of a Scene; Theatrical trailer; Isolated music and effects. Region 0.

BY HIS own admission, William H Macy has played a lot of losers - so much so that he jokingly confesses to having ‘put a moratorium on that type of role’ for himself.

Hence, when he was offered the part of Bernie Lootz, in the outstanding independent flick, The Cooler, he viewed it as an opportunity to take ‘the character of the loser to operatic heights’ and swiftly accepted the challenge.

The result is an absolute gem of a movie, which marks one of the safest bets in town for anyone who enjoys their film-making to be a little quirky.

As the luckless gambler in question, Macy turns in one of his most engaging performances yet, as a man whose misfortune is so contagious, he brings bad luck to anyone he comes into contact with.

Hence, he is ‘walking Kryptonite’ to sleazy casino owner, Shelly Caplow (Alec Baldwin), who employs Lootz as a cooler, to put an end to the hottest of winning streaks, and who will do anything to keep him in place.

But when Lootz meets and finds himself unexpectedly falling in love with Maria Bello’s equally frustrated cocktail waitress, Natalie, he finds his fortunes suddenly changing for the better - so much so that Shelly is forced to take extreme measures to maintain his own investment.

First-time co-writer/director, Wayne Kramer, describes The Cooler as a darkly comic love story between two people whose faith in each other helps them to climb out of the most wretched of circumstances.

The ensuing tale makes for a truly engrossing experience, populated by memorable characters, and twisting and turning in a number of unexpected ways.

Macy, as ever, is excellent in the central role, expertly capturing the desperation of his predicament, and sheer surprise at the way in which his relationship unfolds.

But he is more than matched by Bello, who manages to turn what, on face value, seems like an unlikely romance, into something that is both believable and worth rooting for.

Kramer allows their romance to unfold in an honest, warts-and-all fashion, and the sex scenes between them, while brutally honest, convince on an emotional level, while containing an intimacy you might not immediately expect.

As good as the two principles are, however, it is Baldwin who steals the show, turning in a deservedly Oscar-nominated turn as Shelly, the despicable, violent and desperate casino owner, who still manages to portray a twisted sense of loyalty no matter how low he is prepared to stoop.

The actor creates one of the great anti-heroes of recent screen memory, clearly revelling in the opportunity to portray someone as edgy and dangerous as Shelly, whose presence is felt throughout the movie. It is a genuine return to form for the star, who had appeared to have lost his way of late.

Kramer deserves acclaim, too, for turning in such a consistently enjoyable movie, which plays to the strengths of its cast, and keeps viewers on their toes all the way through to its satisfying conclusion.

This is very much an actor’s piece, and one which tips its hat to Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon, as well as some of the classic tough guy roles of the 50s and 60s, while also maintaining an identity of its own.

It represents a cinematic windfall for anyone who goes to see it.

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