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The Cooler
Directed byWayne Kramer
Produced bySean Furst
Michael A. Pierce
Written byFrank Hannah
Wayne Kramer
StarringWilliam H. Macy
Alec Baldwin
Maria Bello
Shawn Hatosy
Ron Livingston
Music byMark Isham
CinematographyJames Whitaker
Edited byArthur Coburn
Furst Films
Pierce-Williams Entertainment
Dog Pond Films
Gryphon Films
Distributed byLionsgate
  • November 26, 2003 (United States: limited)
101 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$4 million
Box office$10 million
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The Cooler is a 2003 American romantic drama film directed by Wayne Kramer. The original screenplay was written by Kramer and Frank Hannah. In old-school gambling parlance, a casino 'cooler' is an unlucky individual, usually a casino employee, whose mere presence at the gambling tables usually results in a streak of bad luck for the other players.

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Unlucky Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) works at the Shangri-La casino as a 'cooler' - a man with professionally bad luck designed to stop people from winning. A cocktail waitress, Natalie (Maria Bello), takes no notice of Bernie, who is smitten with her. The casino manager, Shelly (Alec Baldwin) prides himself on running a 'classically' 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however, hire an advisor named Larry (Ron Livingston) to help bring in more money with techniques contrary to Shelly's outdated policies.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's 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. They begin dating, but Bernie is apprehensive due to his bad luck. He reveals that he used to be a gambling addict in huge debt to several casinos. Shelly 'saved' him by breaking his kneecap and paying off his debt in exchange for Bernie's work as a cooler for 6 years, which ends at the end of the week. 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 sometime.

Bernie is happy with his relationship and his 'cooling' abilities fade, much to Shelly's chagrin. Mikey and Charlotte come by and Bernie gives them $3000, but Natalie is skeptical of Charlotte's behavior. When Bernie reveals to Natalie he intends to leave Vegas, she says she won't go with him, and Bernie is upset. Now unhappy, his luck turns again and he begins cooling effectively. When he intentionally fails to cool a hot table which is being cheated by Mikey, Shelly takes Mikey and Charlotte upstairs and begins beating them. Bernie promises to pay the $150,000 Mikey was up, but Shelly breaks Mikey's knee and reveals Charlotte's pregnancy was fake 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 actually fell for 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. Bernie leaves and he and Natalie drive away from Vegas. He pulls over and reveals that he won a lot of money, but a cop 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, presumably for letting Bernie go with his winnings. A drunk driver hits and kills the cop, presumably sent to whack Bernie, and Natalie and Bernie drive off.

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  • 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 Patrol Officer
  • Michelle Lopez as the Red Headed Craps Player 'cooled' by Bernie
  • Timothy Landfield as The Player


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 since2006 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 musicalBrigadoon.

According to the 2006 documentary filmThis 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 positive 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]

  • 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)

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  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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External links[edit]

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  • The Cooler on IMDb
  • The Cooler at AllMovie
  • The Cooler at Box Office Mojo
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