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January 26, 2005

Moviegoing: "The Cooler"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Have you caught "The Cooler"? I found it sweet and absorbing. Praise the lord: it isn't a flashy electronic-media thing. And, although it was shot in six weeks for very little money, it's full of real acting, real writing, and real filmmaking. It's an experience to sink into, not to be wiped out by.

Whether or not you enjoy the film may depend on how well you tolerate several things: the neonoir form; and fairy tales about little people, Lady Luck, and Vegas. I fell for the whole package. William Macy gives his most William Macy performance ever as an uber-loser who's such a sadsack that he's employed by a casino to ruin people's luck. He's The Cooler: all it takes to cool someone's good run is for Macy to walk on by. Maria Bello plays a gorgeous ragamuffin whose hopes have come to naught but whose emotions aren't yet extinct. Alec Baldwin is the scummy oldstyle casino owner whose schemes throw Macy and Bello together.

As far as I was concerned, the film isn't in the same class as the best of the semi-recent neonoirs, "The Grifters" and "Croupier." Main reason: an overlong third act, during which the filmmakers run their characters through every possible narrative variation, a few of which struck me as skippable. But I was very happy spending a couple of hours in the film's world. The actors, who let it all hang out in many lovely ways, show a lot of talent, skill, and gusto; the smallscale, bluesy atmosphere is enchanting; and the tough/tender, make-believe tone is pitch perfect.

"The Cooler"'s website, where you can watch a trailer, is here. The film is buyable here and Netflixable here. Maria Bello tells Carrie-Anne Moss that she hopes her ass will be a good role model for other women. I hope so too. "The Grifters" can be bought here and Netflixed here; "Croupier" is here and here.



posted by Michael at January 26, 2005


I liked The Cooler too, but I loved Hard Eight, or Sydney, the first feature from Paul Thomas Anderson. If I were comparing The Cooler unfavourably to other neonoirs, that's the one I'd choose.

Posted by: Felix on January 26, 2005 2:33 PM

That's a good point, thanks, Felix. PTAnderson doesn't do much for me, but I know a lot of people who dig his movies, and certainly "Hard Eight" might appeal to many neonoir buffs.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 26, 2005 2:47 PM

I liked it too because it seemed to be exploring a very new sub-genre of noir. Magical-realist Loser Noir. Seriously, I did like it. There's a softness and ache to it that hides the fact that it is largely comedic.

Seriously seriously, the major circuit breaker for this movie is your tolerance for extended and geographically complete camera musings on William Macy's butt.

Posted by: Sluggo on January 26, 2005 5:27 PM

Michael, I'm with you on "The Cooler". The first 2/3 were dark and depressing with a hint of a possibility of redemption. But then the last third comes in and, with its twist of an ending, sunlight comes pouring in.
Noir-lite, I'd call it.
Noir should eliminate any chance of light, right? Hannah & Kramer, the writers, got a bad case of the maudlins at the end.
I thought Macy, Bello, and Baldwin were all excellent. The Bello-Macy sex scenes were a shocker; he woulda thunk ol' Bill gets to play a least for a scene or two.

Posted by: DarkoV on January 26, 2005 5:28 PM

Hard 8 is the only movie in which the Gwenth is remotely credible as a human. But that's not why I like it.

M. Blowhard - what made you put The Grifters" and "Croupier" on the same list? To my tiny little mind, that's like putting the John Wayne version of "The Alamo" (and I'm sure there must be one) on the same list as "Bottle Rocket" because they take place in the same place. Raelly? Why do you thing these things are alike?

William Macy does not have a bad ass. Excepting the Howdy Doody face, he's quite well put together. He and Steve Buscemi should do a movie feature themselves in full frontal and rearal nudity sans mug, and then suddenly reveal the faces in the final moment. They both have that problem of nebbish faces totally overriding otherwise not-actually-bad bods.

Bill and Steve-O are no Clive Owens - but who is?

Posted by: j.c. on January 27, 2005 12:35 AM

I didn't think The Cooler's problem was the third act, it was just the ending. Don't want to describe it too explicitly for anyone who hasn't seen it, but let's just say I was greatly disappointed when, after initially thinking Kramer would give us a happy ending, I thought he was about to have the courage to avoid doing so... and then he confounded me by living up to my initial expectation.

Other than that, not a bad film at all.

Posted by: James Russell on January 27, 2005 3:12 AM

Sluggo -- "Magical-realist noir," that's perfect. Half "Detour," half "One from the Heart." Did you have any trouble with the conceit of The Cooler? The guy who's such a wet blanket that he can be reliably counted on for ruining everyone else's luck? I was surprised how easily I accepted it. Maybe because the film treated it low-key, as a basic fact of Vegas lore.

DarkoV -- I remember an interview where Macy was asked about the sex scenes. He seemed delighted to have had the chance to do them. But he also said somsething like, "Why now? Why didn't they ask me when I was in my 20s? I was kind of cute then."

JC -- Are you a PTAnderson fan generally? I tip my hat to his talent and ambition, but fail entirely to connect. Not sure why, although I do often have the feeling watching his movies that I lived through '70s Hollywood, loved it, but don't need to do it again. Been there, done that. "Neo-'70s" -- maybe it's a new genre. You don't think "The Cooler" wants to be taken as a noir, or at least a semi-noir? And I'm with you: Macy's actually got a very good bod for a guy his age. There aren't many 50ish guys at my gym who've kept themselves in as good shape. I certainly haven't either. I wonder what his workout routine is.

James -- There was a lot of back-and-forthing at the end of the movie, wasn't there? I wonder if the filmmakers had some anxiety about it. Do we owe the audience an "up"? Or are they going to murder us if we don't come through with a "down"?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 27, 2005 10:58 AM

Can't comment on "Cooler" but I do have one question...isn't a bit late in the game to be calling "The Grifters" a semi-recent neonoir? That's sort of like a newspaper story that I read which referred to the 'late' [as in 'lately deceased'] General Pershing.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 27, 2005 3:54 PM

Hey, I'm takin' the long view here.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 27, 2005 5:43 PM

P.T. Andersen is entertaining but gutless. If he had some conviction about any dran thing, his preachy attitude wouldn't be such a PI the A.

If you want to be taken seriously, have a serious idea or two, P.T.

Posted by: jc on February 1, 2005 11:35 PM

I liked it, third act and all.

I thought a lot of folks who typically gravitate to this kind of film would be disappointed (think that word in Kevin Kline's voice from "A Fish Called Wanda") because it had a happy ending.

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