By Ray Sawhill
I found “The Cooler” sweet and absorbing. Praise the lord: it isn’t a flashy electronic-media thing. And, although it was shot in six weeks for very little money, it’s full of real acting, real writing, and real filmmaking. It’s an experience to sink into, not to be wiped out by.
Whether or not you enjoy the film may depend on how well you tolerate several things: the neonoir form; and fairy tales about little people, Lady Luck, and Vegas. I fell for the whole package. William Macy gives his most William Macy performance ever as an über-loser who’s such a sadsack that he’s employed by a casino to ruin people’s luck. He’s The Cooler: all it takes to cool someone’s good run is for Macy to walk on by. Maria Bello plays a gorgeous ragamuffin whose hopes have come to naught but whose emotions aren’t yet extinct. Alec Baldwin is the scummy oldstyle casino owner whose schemes throw Macy and Bello together.
As far as I was concerned, the film isn’t in the same class as the best of the semi-recent neonoirs, “The Grifters” and “Croupier.” Main reason: an overlong third act, during which the filmmakers run their characters through every possible narrative variation, a few of which struck me as skippable. But I was very happy spending a couple of hours in the film’s world. The actors, who let it all hang out in many lovely ways, show a lot of talent, skill, and gusto; the smallscale, bluesy atmosphere is enchanting; and the tough/tender, make-believe tone is pitch perfect.
©2006 by Ray Sawhill