The Cooler is one of those films hardly anyone remembers or talks about just over 10 years after its release, although at the time it was nominated for (and in a few cases, won) several awards. The strength of the film lies in its performances. William H. Macy plays Bernie, a guy who works in a casino owned by a mobster named Shelly (Alec Baldwin). Bernie is a “cooler,” a guy so unlucky that his mere presence at a crap table, slot machine, card game - you name it - causes the person who’s on a winning streak to collapse in immediate and utter defeat. Bernie is a loser, but he’s a well-paid loser. One day his luck starts to change when he gets a casino waitress named Natalie (Maria Bello) out of a jam.
The Cooler loses its cool when the Frank Hannah/Wayne Kramer screenplay hits us over the head a little too hard with too many examples both of Bernie’s hard luck and his change of luck. A subplot involving Bernie’s son and the son’s pregnant girlfriend doesn’t really work because we know they’re just there as a plot device that helps bring the film to its turning point. Those instances aren’t really deal breakers, at least not until we get to the final slow-motion gambling scenes and a completely implausible ending. Still, the performances - including a couple of short scenes with Paul Sorvino - make The Cooler worth a look.