The Cooler

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The Cooler
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWayne Kramer
Written by
Produced by
  • Sean Furst
  • Michael A. Pierce
CinematographyJames Whitaker
Edited byArthur Coburn
Music byMark Isham
  • ContentFilm
  • Pierce/Williams Entertainment
  • Furst Films
  • Gryphon Films
  • Dog Pond Productions
  • Visionbox Pictures
  • Zero Gravity Management
Distributed byLions Gate Films
Release dates
  • January 17, 2003 (2003-01-17) (Sundance)
  • November 26, 2003 (2003-11-26) (United States)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$4 million
Box office$10 million

The Cooler is a 2003 American romantic drama film directed by Wayne Kramer, from a screenplay by Frank Hannah and Kramer. The film stars William H. Macy, Maria Bello, Shawn Hatosy, Ron Livingston, Estella Warren, Paul Sorvino, and Alec Baldwin. It follows a casino "cooler" whose mere presence at the gambling tables usually results in a streak of bad luck for the other players.

The Cooler had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 17, 2003, and was released in limited theaters in the United States by Lions Gate Films on November 26, 2003. Baldwin and Bello were nominated for Golden Globe Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards for their supporting performances, with Baldwin receiving his first Academy Award nomination.


Unlucky Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) works at the Shangri-La casino as a "cooler" - a man with near professionally bad luck, his presence at a casino designed to stop people from winning. A cocktail waitress, Natalie (Maria Bello), takes no real notice of Bernie, who is smitten with her. The casino manager and partner, Shelly (Alec Baldwin) prides himself on running a "classically" Las Vegas casino, and resents the new places that attract a lower clientele. The owners, however, hire an advisor named Larry (Ron Livingston) to help bring in more money with techniques contrary to Shelly's outdated policies. Bernie informs Shelly that he is leaving town in a week.

After an encounter during which Bernie rescues Natalie from an aggressive customer, she appears to take an interest in him. Secretly prodded by casino owner Shelly, Natalie asks Bernie out for a drink. They end up sleeping together, and then Natalie takes a genuine interest in Bernie. They begin seeing each other, but Bernie is apprehensive due to his mostly bad luck. Shelly initially thought a relationship with Natalie would keep Bernie from leaving his casino. Bernie reveals to Natalie that he used to be a gambling addict, and was in huge debt to several casinos. Shelly "saved" him by breaking his kneecap and paying off his debts in exchange for Bernie's work as a cooler for six years, which ends at the end of the week. By accident, Bernie and Natalie run into his estranged son Mikey and his pregnant wife Charlotte who are scamming a diner by faking labor. Bernie tells Mikey to stop by the casino sometime.

Bernie is happy with his new relationship and his "cooling" abilities fade, much to Shelly's anger. Mikey and Charlotte come by the motel and Bernie gives them $3,000, but Natalie is skeptical of Charlotte's behavior. When Bernie reveals to Natalie he intends to leave Vegas, she initially says she won't go with him, and Bernie is upset. When Bernie fails to cool Mikey at the craps table, Shelly realizes he is being cheated by Mikey. Shelly takes Mikey and Charlotte downstairs and his crew begins beating Mikey. Bernie then promises to pay the $150,000 Mikey was up, but Shelly breaks Mikey's hand and punches Charlotte, revealing her pregnancy was being faked anyway. Though distraught, that night Natalie and Bernie confess their love for one another, and Bernie again becomes a good luck charm.

Shelly calls Natalie to his office and reminds her that he hired her to date Bernie so he wouldn't leave Vegas, not to fall in love with him, which has made him both happy and lucky. He forces her to leave town abruptly, which hurts Bernie and ruins his luck. She does truly love Bernie, though, and returns, restoring Bernie's luck. Shelly goes to Bernie's motel room and begins packing for Natalie and hits her, cutting her face. After a tense exchange wherein she claims Bernie is the closest thing Shelly has to a friend and he doesn't want him to leave, he simply leaves her there. When Bernie comes home, she reveals Shelly hired her to pretend to like him, but she truly fell in love with him.

Banking on his good luck brought on by Natalie's devotion, Bernie confronts Shelly and calls him a coward with nothing in his life but the casino. Shelly lets him go on the condition he pay back the $150,000, which Bernie tries to win at craps. Larry wants Shelly to stop Bernie’s hot streak, but Shelly takes him into the men’s room and beats him, breaking his hand.

Bernie leaves and he and Natalie drive away from Las Vegas. He pulls over and reveals that he won a lot of money, but a cop presumably sent by Shelly approaches and readies to kill them. Shelly gets in his car and finds his partner waiting for him. On Larry's behalf, he whacks Shelly, saying they have to protect their interests. A drunk driver accidentally hits and kills the cop and Bernie remarks their luck must have turned. They drive off finally free.



The film premiere was at the Sundance Film Festival. The Cooler was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, and the Deauville Film Festival, among others, before going into limited release in the United States. During that limited release, The Cooler was primarily shown in Reno, Nevada. The Cooler was mainly filmed in Reno at the Golden Phoenix Reno in Reno. The Golden Phoenix Hotel Casino is now a completed condominium project called The Montage.

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 Cooler. In order to show Bernie's evolution from loser to winner, costume designer Kristin M. Burke dressed him in suits and clothes that progressively became better fits. Early in the film, the character resembles a boy dressed in his father's oversized clothing. By the end, Bernie is not only wearing the right size suit, but he has accessorized it with a brightly colored shirt and tie that represent 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 already scheduled for a total condominium refurbishment, was used as the interior of the Shangri-La. The Golden Phoenix was finally closed for building rehab in 2006, and since 2006 there has been a complete conversion to condominiums, which are named The Montage. Golden Phoenix Reno casino employees and Reno locals were used extensively in the filming of The Cooler. The hotel buildings demolished during the closing credits are the Aladdin, the Sands, the Landmark, and the Dunes hotels.

The song "Almost Like Being in Love", used to mark Bernie's transition from mournful 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 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 Cooler, budgeted at under $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.[1] The Cooler earned about $40 million more with DVD and online sales.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received generally positive reviews from critics, with considerable praise for Alec 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."[2]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film a has a 77% "Certified Fresh" approval rating based on 174 reviews, with an average rating of 6.75/10. The site's consensus reads: "A small movie elevated by superb performances."[3] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 69 out of 100 based on 36 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[4]

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."[5]

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."[6]

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."[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]



  1. ^ The Cooler at
  2. ^ Scott, A. O. (26 November 2003). "FILM REVIEW; To a Guy Who Banks on Bad Luck, Good Luck Can Be Bad". The New York Times.
  3. ^ The Cooler at Rotten Tomatoes
  4. ^ "The Cooler". Metacritic. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger. "The Cooler movie review & film summary (2003)". Chicago Sun-Times.
  6. ^ "Rolling Stone review". Archived from the original on 2009-08-31. Retrieved 2017-10-27.
  7. ^ "Village Voice review". Archived from the original on 2008-04-03. Retrieved 2008-03-02.

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