2003's The Cooler had all the makings to be an incredibly popular film, whether it be the quotable dialogue, the lavish scenery of Las Vegas or the excellent acting of both William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin. Yet, when it comes down to it the film simply does not deliver what one would expect to be an extraordinary film. The Cooler is great in its own right, but fore a multitude of reasons everything appears contrived and forced, making its watchability decrease considerably, not to mention the original cut of the film was reedited due to demands by the MPAA, which felt the films depictions of sexuality to be far too graphic. Ultimately, The Cooler becomes a run of the mill Las Vegas story that the viewer will recognize through the other gambling movies of days gone by and the scenery that is so familiar to filmic and cultural history that even though it is cleverly executed and well spaced still seems like nothing more than b-roll footage from a travel channel expose on casinos. Perhaps, the best word to describe a film like The Cooler is, despite masking itself in what should be a stellar film, average.
The film centers on Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) a down-and-out cooler for the Shangri-La casino. Bernie, who is apparently the unluckiest man alive, serves as their financial control by passing his luck on to players winning big at the casino partially as a means to make money, as well as a way to pay back past debts to the casino's owner Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) who broke Bernie's knee in a fit of rage only to offer him a job as a means to assure a financial return. Bernie, finally free of his debts, explains to Shelly that he is leaving the city for something new and no longer desires to work as the casinos cooler. This news upsets Shelly, as it comes simultaneously, the introduction of a group of men demanding that Shelly change his casino tactics to reflect modern times, as opposed to his mafialike tactics. As a result, Shelly hires one of the casinos drink girls Natalie (Maria Bello) to feign interest in Bernie in order to give him a reason to stay in the city. Initially, Bernie is confused by the advances and assumes he is being tricked, however, when Natalie continues to pursue him, he invites her into his world. Natalie, easily wins Bernie over with her sultry ways and unyielding advances, but much to Natalie's surprise Bernie's good nature and honesty begin to take hold of her. The two fall madly in love and all appears fine, until it becomes apparent that Bernie's recent luck with Natalie is affecting his job as a cooler. Enraged, Shelly takes it upon himself to break the couple apart, however, no amount of physical punishment or ill-will can separate the couple and after some confrontation they come close to leaving. Unfortunately, due to some other bad decisions and an attempt to protect his punk son, Bernie accrues a larger debt making it impossible to leave without Shelly following. In one last hurrah, Bernie tries his hand at craps, betting eighty thousand dollars on a single game. His luck having changed allows him to win and he is able to leave the casino debt free and in possession of a substantial amount of cash. Shelly is left to face his fading empire with rather fatal results.
Fredrik on Film provided a far more substantial bit a few months back, concerning the theory. In essence, game theory posits that life as it exists is a series of games in which rational people engage one another in outcomes in which they will either win or lose with an assumption that the net amount will result in equilibrium. This excludes, however, those who are adapted to play certain "games" better or have disadvantages that will assure their constant loss at a game. These two sides of the coin are represented in this film through Shelly and Bernie respectively. Shelly is a hardheaded businessman who has a set of methods that appear to work for him in the long run, whether it be his brutal means of dealing with cheaters or his clinging to archaic means of casino running with the promise that the customers will be loyal. He knows how to win the games he engages in, yet as the film proves, he is due for a loss and the equillibrium hits Shelly heavily given that the odds had for a considerable time been in his favor. The same works for Bernie although his case is the opposite, it appears as though nothing that Bernie engages in is fruitful, yet with time and the help of other rational game players, such as Natalie, Bernie is able to accrue a few wins and help out his equilibrium. One could look at game theory as a rationalized version of karma, except that good or bad deeds have nothing to do with out come, but that a person is destined to an average number of wins and losses over their lifespan, regardless of their ethical engagement in said life. The Cooler, as well as many film noir masterpieces, provide the most fruitful examples of the game theory as it relates to film.
The Cooler is an enjoyable film, it will not blow you away with excellence, yet it is not a burden to watch. This is a straight-out rental movie and one of many concerning the brutal, Darwin fueled world of Las Vegas.