The Cooler


Generally favorable reviews - based on 36 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 28 out of 36
  2. Negative: 0 out of 36

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Critic Reviews

  1. Look for realism, and you'll find The Cooler disappointing. Look for a far-fetched yarn that's as unpredictable as a throw of the dice, though, and you'll find it engaging fun.
  2. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Wayne Kramer's sexy and often humorous feature directorial debut surrounds its sweet center with the energy, flash and risk of the gambling capital. Sterling performances by William H. Macy and Maria Bello as the long-shot lovers and Alec Baldwin as a temperamental casino operator.
  3. A refreshing throwback to another era of moviemaking: This movie was poured from the bottle, not one of those bar regulator machines. It's got the kick, style and flavor of a straight-up story, before movies were watered down with the opinions of marketers, lawyers and committee heads.
  4. 88
    Wayne Kramer, who co-wrote the scrappy script with Frank Hannah, makes a potent directing debut and strikes gold with the cast.
  5. 88
    The best thing Baldwin has done in years, and a triumph of low-budget storytelling by a director to watch.
  6. 88
    The movie boasts one of those rare twist endings that strikes the right emotional chords, and it deserves credit for laying its bets on a sexy, sympathetic Macy. Sometimes long shots pay off.
  7. The Cooler is small-scale moviemaking about small-scale lives. But it's big in all the right ways.
  8. 88
    The acting is on the money, the writing has substance, the direction knows when to evoke film noir and when (in a trick shot involving loaded dice) to get fancy.
  9. 83
    The highlights of The Cooler -- the portrait of Bernie-as-schlub, the ecstatic union of two losers, the depiction of shadowy old Vegas confronted with its sanitized corporate future -- are superb. You can easily live with the rest to get to them.
  10. Director Wayne Kramer and co-writer Frank Hannah pull off a sleight-of-hand trick here, playing a gritty surface reality against dark Vegas mythology and getting away with it through a combination of shrewd, witty characterization and sure-footed storytelling skills.
  11. 80
    The heart of The Cooler is in the performances, and in the way Kramer shapes the interplay between the characters with the right amounts of ease and tension.
  12. 80
    Still, it's difficult to hold his whoppers against him. In creating characters of such spirit and life, and in imagining such a vibrant, imaginative homage to the transformative powers of love, Kramer, more than most, has earned the right to push his luck.
  13. Reviewed by: Kim Newman
    Macy hasn’t had a role this good since Fargo, and demonstrates again his mastery of the droopy-eyed, apologetically desperate, borderline bitter shrug.
  14. Reviewed by: Alex Kranz
    Driving the plot, Baldwin gives an inexorable, career-marking performance.
  15. 75
    The best part of the film, unsurprisingly, is William H. Macy's low-key portrayal of Bernie.
  16. A lot of fun early in the evening, when the Rat Pack ambiance is novel, but gets bleary by 4 a.m. in the story.
  17. Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    Grabber sub-plots further boost a story that is basically made by its three leads.
  18. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Looks brilliant while you're watching it and stands revealed as counterfeit only in the strong light of day. What Baldwin does, though, is the stuff of supporting actor Oscars.
  19. 70
    Has the intangible and distinctive feel of a movie from a different era. Which just adds to this fine film's mystique, providing yet another reason why The Cooler hits the jackpot.
  20. Luckily this picture is rescued from cliché by the quality of the acting, and Mr. Kramer wisely gives the actors room to work.
  21. 70
    The romance that ensues between Macy and Bello (both of whom are terrific) is exactly the kind of mature, sexy adult relationship that people complain doesn’t exist in movies anymore.
  22. 70
    Hokey and convoluted, but as a sticky-hearted fable of redemption, it's surprisingly seductive.
  23. 70
    Even in Las Vegas, which is possibly the most irrational place on earth, drama demands a bit of dramatic logic. Romantic fairy tales just don't play well on The Strip, despite its fake Eiffel Towers, bogus Italian palazzos and strike-it-rich fantasies.
  24. 70
    For my money, the movie should have given us more of Macy the magical loser and less of Macy the stud muffin.
  25. A blast to watch if for nothing more than the performances. They hit the proverbial jackpot.
  26. When you realize The Cooler is not a comedy but a dark and violent love story, it's hard to reconcile its premise with its mood. The saving graces are the performances of William H. Macy as Bernie and Maria Bello.
  27. 63
    And although The Cooler doesn't do anything fresh with its Vegas milieu, the movie is refreshingly frank and astute when it comes to depicting sex.
  28. 60
    Strong performances -- Baldwin's smoothly vicious Shelley is a revelation -- and Kramer's eye for the striking detail give the familiar material its own distinctive flavor.
  29. Had The Cooler stuck to its dark guns and not turned into a treacly, love-conquers-all fairy tale, this movie might have gone somewhere. In the end, you're only watching this with a sort of mercenary interest in the actors.
  30. The New Yorker
    Reviewed by: David Denby
    The crud and petty desperation of The Cooler is enjoyable as atmosphere, and the movie is passionate. [12 January 2004, p. 86]
  31. It was also a miscalculation to make the film so sexually explicit. It doesn't particularly serve the story and, for all his gifts, Macy is just not the kind of actor most people want to see in a whirl of sweaty, naked sex.
  32. 50
    What's frustrating is that the movie should be so much better, or at least more entertaining. With Baldwin, Macy and Bello, director Kramer is holding three of a kind.
  33. It's a comedy, it's a romance, it's a gangster flick. The Cooler is all of that and much, much less. This is a movie without a compass, switching pace and direction as haphazardly as a caffeinated SUV driver on a cellphone.
  34. 40
    First-timer Wayne Kramer brings pathos to Bernie and Shelly's fraught relationship, but his film never amounts to more than a cute idea stretched to poker-chip thinness.
  35. Lost me early on with its show-offy shooting and editing, portentous metaphysical conceits about winners and losers, and exaggerated displays of evil, violence, and deceit.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 43 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 14 out of 25
  2. Negative: 4 out of 25
  1. MatthewB.
    Apr 19, 2010
    Awful film. While Leaving los vegas was revolutionary, this pursues the same situation, if not the same story, with little realism or Awful film. While Leaving los vegas was revolutionary, this pursues the same situation, if not the same story, with little realism or panache. Alec Baldwin's actin is good, and won a few awards, but William Macy seems off-key in his attempt to portray lovable loser Bernie. The romance seems improbable to say the least, and the dialogue is both boring and entirely predictable- add to that the offense of a main character with seemingly supernatural unluckiness, and you have a near-disaster. If it weren't for the sex scenes- which were brave, if overly improbable again - I wouldn't've felt the slightest amount of thrill at this unhappy loser of a dvd. Good luck would be to avoid it. Full Review »
  2. Riren
    Feb 26, 2007
    The leftovers of Casino, served up with a side of morose independent movie spirit. Its so-called love story is half-hearted, an excuse for The leftovers of Casino, served up with a side of morose independent movie spirit. Its so-called love story is half-hearted, an excuse for some uninteresting and brazen sex scenes. William Macy is an amazing actor who I'd watch doing anything, but doing a blonde and frowning at a poker table are a waste of his talents. The movie seals its fate by throwing a dozen false endings at you, none more creative or plausible than the last. I guess they thought they were being clever. They were wrong. Full Review »
  3. PValentine
    Jan 27, 2006
    The whimsy is undercut by the violence and the sex and while it got the whole aura of a dusty casino and dusty people down what was The whimsy is undercut by the violence and the sex and while it got the whole aura of a dusty casino and dusty people down what was interesting about it? The "love" story was NOT believable to me at the "I'm willing to lose my life for him" level. Full Review »