The Cooler

The Cooler (2003)
Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Cast: William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Isolated Score, Featurette, Storyboards

Wonderful performances, and intriguing story and the lights of Las Vegas are the trademark of Lions Gates "The Cooler." William H. Macy plays the movie’s titular "cooler, " Bernie, a man who is employed by casinos for his persistent bad luck. And since bad luck reportedly rubs off on others, casinos like to employ men such as this in order to "cool down" the winning streaks of others in a controlled fashion, if need be.

All his life Bernie has been down on his luck, and it is only for his mobster-boss Shelly (Alec Baldwin), the man in charge of the Shangri La casino, that he has this job. But change is in the air. Shelly’s partner wants the casino to head into a different direction, to pull even with the Steve Wynn dominated Las Vegas strip. But Shelly is an old-timer who needs the traditional charm of Las Vegas to survive and he does not want to turn his casino into a family-friendly forgettable establishment. Shelly’s old-school mentality collides with that of his partner and that of the young managers he brings in.

Among all that, Bernie is falling in love with one of the casino’s cocktail waitresses, Natalie (Maria Bello). The two begin a romantic relationship but it has a profound effect on Bernie. He’s losing his ability to turn other people’s luck, much to the dismay of Shelly, who is now under enormous pressure from his partner. As a matter of fact, Natalie is his Lady Luck, and suddenly wherever Bernie goes, people win. Shelly, of course, has no interest in losing his cooler and works hard to make sure Bernie remains the loser that he is. Things are heating up quickly and soon the viewer learns that where there is light, there is darkness. Especially in Las Vegas…

I was very much looking forward to seeing this movie and I was not disappointed at all. If you are familiar with Las Vegas and the way it’s being operated and has changed over the past 20 years, it rings true on so many levels. "The Cooler" doesn’t dive into the glitz so much as to tell us the story of the people who work in this city, struggling to make a living while others around them win or lose fortunes at the tables and slot machines. Dark and brooding oftentimes, the film is dominated by Macy’s and Baldwin’s performances, both of them so utterly human that you could almost smell their sweat. Maria Bello certainly makes an impression as Natalie and Ron Livingston nicely presents us with the ideals of "New Vegas" where MBAs and corporate greed reign above all.

Lions Gate is presenting "The Cooler" in its original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. The image is immaculate to say the least. Free of speckles and any sort of defect, the level of detail found in the picture is beautiful to behold, as it renders every texture and every intricacy with great definition. Colors are very rich and bold, but never bleeding or over-saturated. Skin tones are natural-looking at all times and the solid black level of the transfer firmly root the image, giving it good visual depth. No edge-enhancement is evident at all and the compression is without distracting artifacts.

The audio of the DVD is equally impressive, boasting a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track that is making very good use of the surround channels. Not only for great effects, but more importantly to reproduce the ever-bustling atmosphere of the casino in which much of the action takes place. Dialogues are well-integrated and always understandable, never being drowned out by sound effects or the music. Alternatively a <$DS,Dolby Surround> is also provided on the release.

A special feature we haven’t seen in a long time is the isolated score track that is part of the release. Mark Isham’s atmospheric jazzy score for the film can be experienced here in its undisturbed beauty as you watch the movie.
Also included are two separate <$commentary,commentary track>s. The first one features co-writers and director Wayne Kramer and Frank Hanna along with Jim Whitaker, the DP of the movie. It is a very insightful <$commentary,commentary track>, filled with exciting tidbits about the production and Las Vegas itself. It takes a look at all the aspects of the film, the characters, the technical side of it and anything else you may be interested and is certainly worth checking out.
The second commentary features Wayne Kramer with composer Mark Isham, as they go over the film together, discussing the many aural aspects of the movie and how things were put together to achieve the many moods of the film.

Also included is "Anatomy of a scene," a 20-minute featurette from the Sundance Channel that takes a look behind the scenes of the movie. Filled with interviews the featurette is promotional in nature and not necessarily informative if you’ve seen the film, but it’s a fun addition nonetheless.

Also included is a storyboard to film comparison of two scenes from the film, giving you the chance to explore how things evolved from the drawing board to the final production.

"The Cooler" is a wonderful film and I enjoyed every minute of its gritty drama. The characters are superbly brought to life and the story has a few unexpected jolts that certainly help drive the plot. The atmosphere of the film, its cinematography, the music, its deliberate pacing, the acting, all of it is absolutely top notch, making "The Cooler" one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in a while. The DVD is rock solid as well and I truly urge you to give "The Cooler" a look. I am sure you will cherish it just as much as I do.