The Cooler

William H. Macy's protagonist in The Cooler lives by his bad luck in the same way he once tried to live by his good luck. A washed-up gambling addict riding such a massive losing streak that his boss (Alec Baldwin) hires him to spread his bad luck to the marks and suckers who visit his fading casino, Macy lives in a gambler's hell where winning is never an option and success means helping other people lose. It's a profession of the damned, and Macy counts down the days to when he can leave his job forever and start life anew. All that changes, however, when he meets Maria Bello, a hard-luck cocktail waitress who views him as a paragon of common decency in a city full of con artists, sharks, and predators. Macy's plan to leave Las Vegas is further complicated by the reappearance of his no-good son (Shawn Hatosy), a petty crook who pops up looking for a handout, ostensibly for his unborn child. Macy's struggles play out against a larger cultural battle between the proudly sleazy Las Vegas of old, symbolized by the oily Baldwin, and the forces of modernity, which want to turn his casino into a Mall Of America-style abomination with slot machines and crap tables. Baldwin would rather operate an honest den of vice than a fake family attraction, and one of The Cooler's central accomplishments lies in the way it evokes a strange nostalgia for the brutal, vulgar, parasitic ways of Las Vegas' past. The Cooler's plot twists strain plausibility, and while the film is seldom convincing, the rotting glamour of its milieu and the inspired performances at its center provide ample rewards for making the leaps of faith the plot requires. As a movie about flesh-and-blood human beings, The Cooler is hokey and convoluted, but as a sticky-hearted fable of redemption, it's surprisingly seductive.

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