The Cooler (2003)

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Released 22-Sep-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Isolated Musical Score
Audio Commentary-Filmmakers
Audio Commentary-Director/Co-Writer And Composer
Featurette-Anatomy Of A Scene
Storyboard Comparisons-2 Scenes
Theatrical Trailer-2
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 98:01
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (75:47) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Wayne Kramer
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring William H. Macy
Alec Baldwin
Maria Bello
Shawn Hatosy
Ron Livingston
Paul Sorvino
Estella Warren
Arthur J. Nascarella
Joey Fatone
M.C. Gainey
Ellen Greene
Don Scribner
Tony Longo
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Mark Isham

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Isolated Music Score Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I hate casinos. For some reason they are places that I have taken an instant dislike to and avoid as often as I can. I'm not quite sure what it is - they are certainly interesting places to visit, with lots of strange flashing lights and equally bewildering games taking place, but something has just never sat right with me once inside a casino. I think it's the money and the need of people to win. To me, the stench of greed that infiltrates every corner of them is what I find most distasteful. Funnily enough it's not just the eager punters that exhibit much of this greed (in the main they are just there to enjoy themselves), but the actual casino itself. We all know some of the tricks of the trade that casinos employ when it comes to extracting money from the punters, such as no clocks on the wall and no windows to allow the punter to determine how long they have been sitting there, the frequent plying of drinks to loosen up the punters, and other various and highly immoral means to bleed them dry. Is there no low to which a casino will stoop to make a buck? Like I said, I hate casinos.

    Which brings us to this neat little film. It's about an unlikely love affair set inside the confines of an old-school style Las Vegas casino. The Shangri-La is run by the greedy Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin). He employs every means at his disposal to swing the odds in favour of the house, some obvious and some not so obvious. One of these old-school methods is the employ of coolers. A cooler is someone who possesses such rotten gambling luck that whenever they even get near a table on which someone is on a hot winning streak, their luck immediately turns sour. Luckily for Shelly, he has the best cooler in the business working for him. Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) is the epitome of a loser. If losing was an Olympic sport, Bernie would be a five-time gold medallist and world-record holder. Bernie doesn't particularly enjoy his job but is forced to work for Shelly because he is paying off a long-time gambling debt. Luckily for Bernie he has just a week left before his debt is paid and he can leave the dirty confines of the Shangri-La casino for brighter pastures. You see, not only is Bernie a loser when it comes to gambling, but he's not all that successful in everyday life either. He is forced to live in a dirty cheap motel room, he has no friends, and absolutely no love life whatsoever. A champion loser if ever there was one.

    But life is about to take a sudden and uplifting twist for our loveable loser. A lovely cocktail waitress who works at the Shangri-La takes a shine to Bernie and asks him out. Natalie (Maria Bello) is everything Bernie could have wished for in a woman, but figured he would never have the slightest chance of having. The pair strike up quite an intimate relationship and suddenly Bernie's life is looking better. Unfortunately this sudden reversal of fortune has also affected Bernie's ability to cool tables. In one of the best scenes in the film, Bernie arrives at the casino for work, the morning after an intimate night with Natalie. Sporting a grin the Cheshire cat would be proud of, Bernie proceeds to stroll around the gaming floor. But rather than see punters suddenly start to lose money, the complete opposite occurs with punters scoring big on slot machines, roulette, craps, and blackjack. Bernie has suddenly gone from a cooling unlucky loser to a punters' good luck charm, and the big boss Shelly not happy.

    But Shelly's problems with Bernie are just the beginning, since his methods of running the casino are coming under scrutiny from its owners, the mob. They send in a new man, Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston) to oversee Shelly's management and methods and to 'suggest' some new ways of doing things. Shelly, being from the old school of casinos, where the odd kneecapping or two isn't uncommon, isn't too appreciative of the suggestions, and clashes repeatedly with Sokolov. But when Shelly sees his money starting to walk out the door, closely followed by his cooler, Bernie, he knows he must take some drastic action to keep both the money and Bernie from leaving.

    It's great to see a fantastic character actor such as William H. Macy in a leading role. He has played so many quirky losers over the years (Fargo, Welcome To Collinwood) that he falls into the role with ease, but without any of the exaggerated mannerisms found in those other roles. He embodies the loser with such understatement in the early part of this film that it is almost impossible to believe this man could entertain the idea of a change of luck. His character's relationship with Natalie could have easily appeared contrived, but it is delivered with such emotional intensity (and it's quite erotic too) that you cannot help but believe it to be true and you will find yourself cheering him on in his quest to lift his life out of the gutter.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    This is quite a decent video transfer that offers plenty of eye catching colours and lots of detail.

    It is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and is also 16x9 enhanced.

    The print is nice and sharp with no traces of edge enhancement. There are no problems with shadow detail, despite a considerable amount of the film occurring in the dark and dim confines of the casino. There is no low level noise.

    As mentioned, the colour palette is bright and vivid when required, capturing the gaudy nature of a Las Vegas casino with ease. Skin tones are consistent and blacks are solid.

    There are no apparent MPEG artefacts, and thankfully the transfer is free from any aliasing or other film-to-video artefacts. I noticed a handful of small spots in the form of film artefacts, but these are barely worth worrying about.

    Unfortunately, this title has no subtitles, which is quite unusual for a Universal release.

    This is a dual layered disc that is formatted RSDL. The layer change occurs quite late in the film at 75:47. The placement is mid-scene and quite obvious. I really think there are a few better spots to put it.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    You are certainly spoilt for choice in the audio soundtrack area. There are a staggering five soundtracks available here, including one for an all-too-rare isolated music score. Joining that soundtrack is a Dolby Digital 5.1 effort encoded at the higher bitrate of 448 Kb/s and a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround soundtrack encoded at the bitrate of 224 Kb/s. Rounding out the selection are a choice of two English commentary tracks.

    The main 5.1 surround soundtrack is a solid, dynamic, and clean soundtrack that while not offering a great deal of surround activity has enough movement across the front soundstage to keep things interesting. The score and various songs used throughout are particularly well represented.

    The dialogue is perfectly balanced, clear, and easily understood. It is very prominent in the overall soundtrack, and there are no problems with audio sync.

    The score is credited to Mark Isham and is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the film. It captures the down-on-his-luck, loser aspect of the main character in the initial act of the film, before springing to life when his luck makes a dramatic improvement.

    There isn't a great deal of surround channel use, but when it is there it creates a decent enveloping experience.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio & Animation

Isolated Musical Score

    Mark Isham's score is certainly one of the film's highlights and this all-too-rare isolated score soundtrack, recorded in full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, gives you the ability to experience it just by itself with none of that annoying dialogue getting in the way.

Audio Commentary - Wayne Kramer (Co-Writer & Director), Frank Hannah (Co-Writer), and  James Whitaker (Director of Photography)

    A reasonable commentary that runs the full length of the film. Director Wayne Kramer is suitably proud of his film and it does show, though he tends to lapse into the "this is my favourite scene" syndrome occasionally and often merely describes what is occurring on the screen. There is still enough information presented to make it interesting and enhance one's appreciation of the film.

Audio Commentary - Wayne Kramer (Co-Writer & Director), Mark Isham (Composer)

    This is a really nice commentary that focuses on the beautiful score created by composer Mark Isham. It seems like director Wayne Kramer has been a big fan of Isham's work for some time and really had no-one else in mind when he sought a composer for the film. Lots of useful and highly informative anecdotes are shared and I'd say that this commentary is actually more valuable than the first one.

Featurette - Anatomy of a Scene

   This is the now quite common Sundance channel making-of featurette called Anatomy of a Scene. This particular one runs for 20:34. After a brief introduction to the film, the featurette focuses on the opening scene in the film which highlights the rotten luck that Bernie Lootz possesses as he cools tables. Topics covered for this scene include the cinematography, the production design, and of course the acting.


    This set of interviews has got to be the worst I have ever seen. What these four interviews consist of is the usual five minute promotional piece where the actors are wheeled in front of an endless line of journalists for hours on end, who obviously all ask the same questions. What's a little different here is that no editing has taken place, so we hear all the banter between reporter and actor. And boy is it sycophantic or what. The unnamed and barely seen reporter from CNN asks the same, completely inane questions to the four main stars Bill Macy (6:01), Alec Baldwin (5:55), Maria Bello (4:21), and Ron Livingston (4:45) and barely listens to the answers. In fact at one point she asks Maria Bello a question, gets an answer and then asks another question which Bello had already answered. And the actor lets her know too in a classic moment. The flirting that goes on with Alec Baldwin is also a little embarrassing. One to avoid for any substance, but it's very good for a laugh.

Storyboard Comparisons

    Two storyboard comparisons are available and both have been conceived rather well. They feature a multi-angle option whereby you can switch between a large version of the storyboard and a small window for the finished film scene or vice-versa. The scenes compared with the original and quite detailed storyboards are The Cooler Scene (0:50) which is the opening scene in the film where Bernie Lootz cools the winning tables, and The Heater Scene (3:04) where Bernie's luck has changed and he manages to help the punters win.

Theatrical Trailer

    There are two theatrical trailers present. One is the original US domestic trailer that runs for 2:03, with the second being the international trailer that runs for 2:09. They are remarkably different and show just how the film was marketed so very differently at home and abroad. The domestic trailer paints the film as being quite dark and very much a noir comedy, while the international trailer takes on a much lighter comedic tone.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 disc misses out on;

    As you can see the releases are almost exactly the same, with the extra trailers for the actual film swinging things ever-so-slightly in favour of the Region 4 release.


    Excuse the cheap pun, but The Cooler is a pretty cool film that features some standout acting performances from William H. Macy, Maria Bello, and even the oft-criticised Alec Baldwin. The unlikely love story set against the backdrop of a sleazy and old-school Las Vegas casino is charming yet sometimes slightly disturbing. This is one film certainly worth a look.

    The video and audio quality is excellent, while the extras are comprehensive for what is a quite low-budget film.

    And I still hate casinos.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Sunday, September 05, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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