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Lions Gate presents
The Cooler (2003)

"People get next to me, their luck turns. It's always been that way."
- Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: April 25, 2004

Stars: William H. Macy, Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin
Other Stars: Ron Livingston, Estella Warren
Director: Wayne Kramer

MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, violence, language, and some drug use
Run Time: 01h:42m:17s
Release Date: April 27, 2004
UPC: 031398118244
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+A-A- A-

DVD Review

Las Vegas is a mythological place, a surreal mecca for those trying to change their lives—some for better and some for worse; it is a place where desires, dreams and all that comes in between converge. People have their own rituals and beliefs when it comes to Vegas. It is the city where you will find people of all kinds, most of whom are likely the superstitious type. People have "lucky" casinos, parking spaces, drinks, craps tables, what have you. Rabbits' feet and other mementos of luck are frequently kept in pocket—anything that will give the extra edge, enticing Lady Luck to ante up. What they don't count on is Bernie Lootz.

Bernie (William H. Macy) is a cooler. He is bad luck personified. His job is simple: to make people lose. Whenever a table heats up, all Bernie has to do is walk by, brush the roulette wheel or focus on a hand of blackjack, and luck turns. The table goes cold. And so goes Bernie the bloodhound, sniffing out luck wherever it is found and squelching it in turn. His gangster boss, Shelly (Alec Baldwin) is a firm believer in the preservation of the old-time Vegas. He puts great stock in the myths of the town, wanting to preserve his Golden Shangri-La casino in its original, old-school state, cooler and wallpaper included. His empire is being threatened by a young hotshot (Ron Livingston) who wants to rebuild the Shangri-La, placing it among the more prestigious "Epcot"-like casinos.

That's the first of Shelly's problems. When Bernie falls in love with Natalie, a beautiful waitress at the Shangri-La, he gets lucky—literally. Suddenly, his cooling skills are, well, cooled. People who come in contact with the smitten Bernie begin to win without limit, calling the attention of his boss, who will stop at nothing to preserve his comfortable life. Fearing change, Shelly works to end Bernie's relationship. The Shangri-La's cooler and his Lady Luck are threatening to destroy his balance. However, Bernie will not stand by and let Shelly gamble with his happiness.

The Cooler is pure fun. A thrilling, energetic romp with its fair share of violence and nudity (a bit too much of Macy for me, thank you very much), director Wayne Kramer has infused the style and intensity of Vegas onto celluloid. The film is not without its flaws, though. Some parts are a little predictable, and the ending seems a bit forced. Still, these minor gripes do not prevent satisfaction. Ultimately, this is a film about the mythology of Sin City. Superstitions come to life in vivid detail, and in a convincing manner. Kramer and cinematographer James Whitaker use the spot-lighted, neon-drenched hues of the city to great effect. Some great transitions, editing, and time-lapse photography make the film a visual feast. Coupled with Mark Isham's splendidly jazzy, modern score, this is a treat.

The performances truly make this worthwhile. Seemingly the busiest man in Hollywood, William H. Macy delivers another great round of acting. His Bernie exudes the entire spectrum: He begins depressed and muted, knowing his place in the casino. He has job security and is forced to be mildly content with being himself and making people lose. When cupid strikes, his persona shifts and his confidence boosts. Thankfully, this is not done in an overtly implausible, comedic manner. Maria Bello is perfectly believable as Natalie, a woman who is looking for decency after experiencing so little. Their relationship is achingly honest. Ron Livingston is also noteworthy as the bold, up-and-coming casino magnate, Larry. Of course, the performance with the most acclaim from this picture is Alec Baldwin's Shelly, and deservedly so. Baldwin perfectly portrays the brutal, edgy, yet disturbingly analytical mentality of his gangster character. This is one of his best.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer contains excellent contrast, fine detail and captures the bold color scheme of the film very well. At times, the transfer takes on a softer, muted appearance, and grain is evident, but this looks to be a source issue, not a digital one. In fact, I did not detect any digital overenhacement. A somewhat clean, yet impressive, film-like transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 mix is surprisingly immersive for such a dialogue driven film. In the casino, ambient sounds wrap around, placing us in the action. Mark Isham's score has an acoustically deep presence, flowing from all channels. There are some neat directional effects as well. Later in the film, when a craps player throws the dice, they fly behind the camera. The sound of plastic on felt bounces in the rear surrounds, as though we were sitting in the table! Nicely done.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Cooler Soundtrack Promo, Godsend, Girl With a Pearl Earring, Shattered Glass
Isolated Music Score with remote access
1 Documentaries
Storyboard
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director/co-writer Wayne Kramer, co-writer Frank Hannah, cinematographer James Whitaker, composer Mark Isham
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Lion's Gate has provided a small jackpot of extras for this standout film, including a pair of commentaries. First up is director/co-writer Wayne Kramer, co-writer Frank Hannah and cinematographer James Whitaker. Second is director Wayne Kramer with composer Mark Isham. Both of these tracks are very informative and full of great interplay. Being a film score fan, I especially enjoyed the composer/director track, which has some hero worship, but is still worthwhile. Wayne Kramer is a big Isham fan, 'nuff said.

Extra marks for this one: Mark Isham's superb score is isolated in 5.1 on an alternate audio track. This is one of my favorite features that needs to be included more often! Studios, are you listening?

The Sundance Channel's episode of Anatomy of a Scene for The Cooler is also included (21m:01s). This is television's best on-going series on filmmaking, hands down. Another fine entry features "The Heater" scene in depth, examining every aspect of the production. In the acting section, there is a hilarious series of outtakes with Alec Baldwin and a not-so-top-shelf actor.

Finally, we are treated to some storyboard comparisons via a split screen showing either the board in a larger frame on top and the film segment in a smaller frame below, or vice versa (switching is controlled via the angle button). Two scenes are examined: "The Cooler Scene" (:50s) and "The Heater Scene" (03m:05s).

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Wayne Kramer's impressive debut is a cool, edgy story surrounding the mythology of Vegas. Macy, Baldwin, and Bello turn in excellent performances, and when coupled with the great visuals, make this an easy recommendation. Lions Gate's DVD is impressive, with some great extras including Mark Isham's score isolated in 5.1. Will you like it? The odds are in your favor.

 


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