Wayne Kramer, writer/director of "The Cooler" (IMDb listing), believes that some people simply have bad karma. In fact, he thinks he used to be one of them, and as evidence he cites his stint in the South African army when he and 11 comrades where sent to Angola. "I was the only one who got malaria," he points out, "and I got it twice."
But Kramer's luck changed for the better when his co-writer Frank Hannah, a frequent guest at Las Vegas' craps tables, put his idea for "The Cooler," the story of a Vegas man with incredibly infectious bad luck, on the table. It was the perfect opportunity for Kramer to exorcise his bad luck demons, and he does so terrifically with an engaging feature debut that taps unerringly into the great range of emotions (of actors and audiences alike), and has a little luck thrown in just for good measure.
To pay off an old gambling debt, Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) has worked for his friend and director of the Shangri La Casino, Shelley Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) as a Cooler. With his perpetual bad luck as a calling card, Bernie does his nightly rounds among the tables and, by a simple touch of wood or pat on the shoulder, makes sure that the house always wins. But with his obligation nearly fulfilled, all Bernie dreams of is getting out and going somewhere where "they have night and day, and clocks on the wall." Just then he meets a new cocktail waitress, Natalie (Maria Bello), and things begin to go seriously wrong when it appears that Lady Luck is now on Bernie's side.
Macy, always first choice for the character of Bernie, remembers: "I've played a lot of losers in my career, so many in fact, that I had decided to put a moratorium on that type of role for myself. When I read 'The Cooler,' I thought this takes the character of the loser to operatic heights!" A self-described sucker for love stories, Macy liked that Bernie's fortunes are transformed through love. He committed to the project early on.
And for the record, the Best Supporting Actor Oscar should have gone to spectacular baddie Baldwin, who, director Kramer says, had an understanding of his character immediately, knowing startling and complicated things like Shelley's regrets and the clothes he would wear.
The acting is impeccable throughout the film -- watch for a great, improvised line from an impressive and brave Bello at the end of the first love scene -- and the well-rounded story and great cinematography make this a real treat.
Filmfodder Grade: A+