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The Cooler is a 2003 Americanmarker drama film directed by Wayne Kramer. The original screenplay was written by Kramer and Frank Hannah. In gambling parlance, a "cooler" is an unlucky individual whose presence at the tables results in a streak of bad luck for the other players.


Unlucky Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) has little going for him - he lives in a dreary efficiency unit in a rundown Las Vegasmarker motel, he's indebted to Shangri-La casino boss Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin), who years earlier cured him of a gambling habit by destroying his kneecap, and he can't recall the last time he had physical contact with a woman. His success as a "cooler" is jeopardized when cocktail waitress Natalie Belisario (Maria Bello) seemingly takes an interest in him, and his luck - and that of those around him - takes a turn for the better. What Bernie doesn't know is that Shelly has paid the woman to seduce him into staying in town. What Shelly doesn't know is that Natalie actually has fallen in love with Bernie - and vice versa. Additional complications arise when Shelly, an old-timer who resents the Disneyfication of Vegas, resists the efforts of new Shangri-La advisers, including Ivy League graduate and condescending upstart Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston), to update the property and bring it into the 21st century.


Production notes

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It was shown at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festivalmarker, and the Deauville Film Festival, among others, before going into limited release in the US.

In an episode of the Sundance Channel series Anatomy of a Scene, director Wayne Kramer and members of his cast and crew discussed various aspects of the film. In order to show Bernie's evolution from loser to winner, costume designer Kristin M. Burke dressed him in suits that progressively became better fits. Early in the film, the character resembles a boy dressed in his father's oversized clothing. By the end, he not only is wearing the right size suit, but he has accessorized it with a brightly colored shirt and tie that represents his sunnier disposition. Lighting schemes designed by cinematographer Jim Whitaker also contributed to documenting Bernie's progression. In early scenes, his face is kept in the shadows, but later he is filmed in a spotlight and backlit to make him stand out from everything behind him.

The Golden Phoenix Renomarker, which was scheduled for a total refurbishment, was used as the interiors of the Shangri-La. The Golden Phoenix was closed in 2006, and since then has been undergoing a conversion to condominiums, named The Montage. The hotel buildings demolished during the closing credits are the Aladdinmarker, the Sandsmarker, the Landmark, and the Dunes hotels.

The song "Almost Like Being in Love", used to mark Bernie's transition from sad sack to winner, was written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner for the stage musical Brigadoon.

According to the 2006 documentary film This Film Is Not Yet Rated, the MPAA originally rated the film NC-17 because of a glimpse of pubic hair during a sex scene. An edited version rated R was released in theaters. A director's cut has been broadcast by the Independent Film Channel and Cinemax.

The film, budgeted at $4 million, grossed $8,291,572 in the US and $2,173,216 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $10,464,788 .

Critical reception

Writing for The New York Times, A.O. Scott said, "The setting . . . is a little tired, and the premise is pretty hokey. Mr. Kramer, rather than trying to discover anything new, is content to recycle familiar characters and story lines. The script . . . and the direction are skillful, if occasionally gimmicky . . . Luckily this picture is rescued from cliché by the quality of the acting, and Mr. Kramer wisely gives the actors room to work."

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said the film "has a strange way of being broad and twisted at the same time, so that while we surf the surface of the story, unexpected developments are stirring beneath . . . This is a movie without gimmicks, hooks or flashy slickness . . . . The acting is on the money, the writing has substance, the direction knows when to evoke film noir and when . . . to get fancy."

In Rolling Stone, Peter Travers rated the film 3½ out of a possible four stars and added, "Wayne Kramer, who co-wrote the scrappy script with Frank Hannah, makes a potent directing debut and strikes gold with the cast . . . Top of the line is Baldwin, whose revelatory portrayal of an old Vegas hard-liner in thrall to the town's faded allure is the stuff Oscars are made of. From James Whitaker's seductive camerawork to Mark Isham's lush score, The Cooler places all the smart bets and hits the jackpot."

Mark Holcomb of The Village Voice said, "Taking a page from the Sin City cinema revisionist's handbook, The Cooler mimics the Vegas insider's perspective of Casino (without Scorsese's fetishistic attention to detail), the seedy/saccharine insouciance of FX's Lucky (devoid of quirky chutzpah), and the couch-potato glitz of NBC's Las Vegas . . . What's left never gels as fantasy, drama, or romantic comedy . . . [the] film never amounts to more than a cute idea stretched to poker-chip thinness."

Awards and nominations


  1. The Cooler at
  2. New York Times review
  3. Chicago Sun-Times review
  4. Rolling Stone review
  5. Village Voice review

External links

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