Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Wayne Kramer|
|Produced by||Sean Furst
Michael A. Pierce
|Written by||Frank Hannah
|Starring||William H. Macy
|Music by||Mark Isham|
|Editing by||Arthur Coburn|
Dog Pond Films
|Running time||101 minutes|
The Cooler is a 2003 romantic 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 studio apartment in a rundown motel on the Las Vegas Strip, 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.
- William H. Macy as Bernard "Bernie" Lootz
- Alec Baldwin as Sheldon "Shelly" Kaplow
- Maria Bello as Natalie Belisario
- Shawn Hatosy as Michael "Mikey" Lootz
- Ron Livingston as Larry Sokolov
- Paul Sorvino as Buddy Stafford
- Estella Warren as Charlotte
- Arthur J. Nascarella as Nicky "Fingers" Bonnatto
- Joey Fatone as Johnny Cappella
- Ellen Greene as Doris
- MC Gainey as Highway officer
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival, and the Deauville Film Festival, among others, before going into limited release in the United States.
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 Reno, 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 Aladdin, the Sands, the Landmark, and the Dunes hotels.
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 Maria Bello's 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 United States and $2,173,216 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $10,464,788.
Critical reception 
The film received generally positive reviews and with considerable praise to Baldwin's performance. 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 
- National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor (Alec Baldwin, winner)
- Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture (Maria Bello, winner)
- Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor (Baldwin, winner)
- Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor (Baldwin, winner)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture (Baldwin, nominee)
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Baldwin, nominee)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture (Bello, nominee)
- Satellite Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama (William H. Macy, nominee)
- Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture (Baldwin, nominee)
- Satellite Award for Best Original Screenplay (Frank Hannah and Wayne Kramer, nominees)
- Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role - Motion Picture (Baldwin, nominee)
- Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role - Motion Picture (Bello, nominee)
- The Cooler at the Internet Movie Database
- The Cooler at AllRovi
- The Cooler at Box Office Mojo
- The Cooler at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Cooler at Metacritic