The Cooler

The Cooler

Good riddance to the old Vegas, if The Cooler is to be believed.

As evil as the corporate bean counters who replaced them are, they may well represent a slight upgrade over the psychopathic gangsters of The Cooler (and Casino) whose solution to every problem seems to be to break some limbs.

The main problem I had with this movie was getting past its affirmation of superstition. It’s one thing to represent the characters themselves as being superstitious (e.g., the female lead doing her boyfriend’s horoscope, and thinking she’s in her right mind doing so), but in this movie the superstitions are accurate.

That’s always been a pet peeve of mine about movies. I don’t like when ghosts and religious phenomena and New Age malarkey and such are treated as if they are real. Things like time travel and aliens from outer space bother me less, because they’re more clearly recognizable (admittedly not by everyone) as fantasy. But when the everyday supernaturalism of psychics and superstition is taken seriously in a film, it strikes me as a form of pandering to the dumb masses who go in for such nonsense, and it implicitly validates their ignorant worldview.

Again, if the film just depicted “old school” Vegas as being superstitious enough to employ “coolers” to circulate and kill people’s luck at the tables, I have no problem with that. But in this film, we’re expected to believe that for year after year, every time this guy stands next to winning gamblers, their luck changes and they lose.

And then when he’s in love everybody around him wins, when he loses the girl everyone around him loses again, when he gets the girl back everyone around him wins again, and so on. Give me a break.

About midway through the movie, I made a conscious decision to reorient myself and treat this movie, which in most respects has the trappings of realism, instead as a fable, as, say, an episode of The Twilight Zone, where supernaturalism or science fiction is an acceptable means of telling a story and communicating certain morals.

I don’t know that I succeeded a hundred percent, but I did find myself balking somewhat less at the coincidences and the sympathetic depiction of luck and superstition and such after that. Or maybe I just got used to it. But I gradually focused more on the story and didn’t require it to be realistic, any more than I would expect the animals in Aesop’s Fables to act like animals instead of talking and acting like people.

And the story itself drew me in to a decent degree. Again, in keeping with this being a fantasy rather than anything realistic, the characters were almost all simplistic “types,” serving as representations of certain attitudes and institutions. For example, the aforementioned corporate bean counters and old school casino tough guys are represented by a couple of caricatures. But I became more accepting of all that.

And as I did so, I liked the movie more than not. It has a nice “love conquers all” sort of message, and the acting and production values are solid throughout. William H. Macy, as the “cooler,” is particularly good—as he is in just about any film I’ve ever seen him in—but Alec Baldwin as the leg-breaking casino boss is compelling as well. I found myself rooting for the latter to turn out to be more human, and I wanted to believe he saw the cooler as a friend (which is what the cooler wanted to believe as well), but it reaches a point where he’s really done too much damage and been too much of an ass for any eventual redemption to mean anything.

But anyway, it became a moderately enjoyable movie for me. Also, as I’ve mentioned when I’ve written about a few other more straightforward, even mainstream, movies, after watching a lot of subtitled films, and obscure, dark, surreal, symbolic, etc. films that drop you in the middle of a labyrinth and never allow you more than part of the way out of it, it’s refreshing to watch a film where I can keep track of the characters, and I know what the heck’s going on from start to finish.

So I guess I can give The Cooler a mild recommendation.

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