A great many Christians proclaim to those who will listen that there is no such thing as luck; everything happens for a reason. With this kind of philosophy, Buffalo Bills fans must think that God really has it in for them. Perhaps things like the Super Bowl are not determined by God’s will but rather by chance. That riddle won’t be solved in this lifetime.
“The Cooler” is a new film dealing with the nature of luck. Can one man be so unlucky in life that his misfortune will contaminate others if he advances toward them? Is luck truly altered by some unseen force rather than just being haphazard?
The movie’s title character is a man named Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy). Bernie is such an unlucky person that he has been hired by the Shangri-La Hotel and Casino to bring bad luck to anyone on a winning streak. The casino term for this is “cooler.” Bernie’s boss, Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) will send Bernie toward any table where the odds are not going in favor of the house. Bernie’s presence at the table always turns the tide, making Shelly very happy. Once a winner’s luck is cooled, Bernie moves on to another winner.
Then something new happens to Bernie. For the first time in his life, Bernie finds love—at least he thinks it is the real thing. Bernie’s disposition is altered by finding love in a world that has always given him the worst. With his new attitude, something else changes for Bernie: He begins to bring good luck rather than extinguish it. Suddenly Bernie is not as valuable to Shelly anymore.
Has Bernie really found love? Has his luck changed forever? Will Shelly allow his friend to be happy? All these are questions best left unanswered in any review.
“The Cooler” is about more than just Bernie and Shelly. There are subplots involving the mob and some mob violence. There are a lot of elements that deal with the old Vegas versus the new, more family-friendly Las Vegas. There is even a subplot dealing with Bernie’s son, who is more of a loser than his father will ever be. All this is secondary, and not as satisfying as the story of unfortunate Bernie.
Three performances stand out in “The Cooler.” William H. Macy, playing Bernie, continues to do great work as a humble every man. Since he shocked audiences as a husband plotting his wife’s kidnapping in “Fargo,” Macy has been delivering one great performance after another.
Maria Bello plays Natalie, the cocktail waitress who Bernie has a crush on. When Bernie finally asks her out, one is relieved that she accepts. Is this good fortune warming the cooler? Bello’s performance creates perhaps the most complicated character in the story.
Finally, Alec Baldwin received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for the role of Shelly, the true villain of this story. Together, this trio makes “The Cooler” a special film, albeit one containing parts that some viewers will find objectionable.
Ultimately, some people will always believe in luck and others will claim that nothing happens by chance. “The Cooler” is not a profound enough film to challenge either assertion.
“The Cooler” is not a great film, but a nice small film about the nature of luck. Ultimately, the film’s message is simple: Perhaps the luckiest thing in this world is to find love. Whether luck comes from God or chance, there is little doubt for believers where the origin of love lies.
Roger Thomas is pastor of First Baptist Church in Ablemarle, N.C.
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, violence, language and some drug use. EthicsDaily.com found crime-mob violence with limited blood, profanity, drug use and strong sexuality without nudity.
Director: Wayne Kramer
Writers: Frank Hannah & Wayne Kramer
Cast: Bernie Lootz: William H. Macy; Shelly Kaplow: Alec Baldwin; Natalie Belisario: Maria Bello; Mikey: Shawn Hatosy; Larry Sokolov: Ron Livingston; Buddy Stafford: Paul Sorvino.
The movie’s Web site is here.