Bernie (William H. Macy) works as a cooler [meaning as a person whose bad luck transfers to the other people] in the Shangri-La casino which is run by Shelly (Alec Baldwin), Bernie’s oldest friend. But Bernie is about to quit. Then he meets the waitress Natalie (Maria Bello) and they fall in love – and suddenly Bernie’s luck turns. But that’s not making everybody happy.
The Cooler has a very nice cast and good characters in a setting that is a bit tired. But the whole thing gets a fresh feel through the matter-of-factness with which its slight magical realism is included.
I liked how Bernie’s influence on luck is just treated as fact, making this story magical, but seemingly without realizing it. (Maybe they really didn’t.) It makes the story work without taking focus away from the characters.
And the characters really were what gives this movie life. And not only because the casting was perfect: you want loveable melancholy and loneliness? Nobody can do it as well as William H. Macy. You want charismatic asshole, slightly shady businessman – you can’t do better than Alec Baldwin. I also always love to see Shawn Hatosy – his range is limited, but within it, he’s good. The same goes for Maria Bello and she is really excellent here.
Another thing that I loved about the movie were the sex scenes. There are only a couple, but they feel completely real. There’s talking, there’s laughing and there’s fumbling – all of which happen in real life but barely in the movies, especially when it’s not a comedy.
The soundtrack was a little too saxophone-y and noir-y for my taste and got a bit overwhelming. And as I said the overall setting is a little tired – I mean how many movies about lonely people in Las Vegas have we seen? Probably a billion. But other than that I really enjoyed myself.