Went with BigSheb to see The Cooler at the USA Network screening room on Sunset tonight. The theater is right next to the Sunset Plaza, which (as I discovered when I went to the Under the Tuscan Sun Record Release Party a short while ago) has free parking.
William H. Macy plays Bernie, a man so down on his luck that his mere presence brings bad luck to those around him. He’s one week away from paying off his debt to Shelly (Alec Baldwin), the Director of Operations for the Shangri-La Casino in Vegas. Shelly had kneecapped Bernie to save his life when his debt got to high, and he’s been working for Shelly ever since as a “cooler” – someone who changes the “luck” at the gambling tables when things are going hot.
Enter Natalie (Maria Bello), a new waitress at the casino who instantly connects with Bernie. The two of them start to fall for each other – but will Bernie stay in Vegas? Will Shelly let him leave? (He’s good for business!) What about the casino owners, who want to go with the new trends, but Shelly is all about “old Vegas”?
The film is a classically independent one – low budget all the way, but still completely believable. The lack of a budget meant that they had to rely on the actors to pull it off – and they do! Sure, there’s a bit of gratuitous nudity along the way, but it’s all for the “art”. Baldwin is probably the best he’s ever been in this film, playing a conflicted character whose dark side has totally consumed him.
Part drama, part romance, and a dash of comedy, this film left me feeling pleased. Sure some of the things on screen were a bit farfetched, but the tone was just right, and the jazzy music by Mark Isham never felt overplayed. If there’s a sleeper film to see, this is the one.