10 April 2015

Speaking of Acting: Alec Baldwin in The Cooler

On the side panels I have a couple of lists, and some people have asked for links. Well, you can't link from a list for some mysterious reason; so I'm gradually going to go through the lists with a brief discussion and a link so you can see for yourself what I mean.

So first: The Cooler is a neat little movie that's pretty much completely unsung. I can't imagine why.

William H. Macy plays Bernie, a rather unenterprising sad-sack who has found the perfect job: all he has to do is stand near a gambler and the gambler's luck will disappear. That's why he's called the Cooler. His employer, Shelly, an old-style Las Vegas owner, relies on his talent to keep expenses down, since he's in debt to the Mob. This seems to work out all right; but things start to fall apart when Bernie suddenly falls in love and finds his love happily returned. Suddenly his powers of ill-luck melt away.

Shelly Kaplow, as played by Alec Baldwin, is a man who loves tradition -- even if it's criminal tradition. His glossy hair, pristine silk shirts, and gorgeous sharkskin jackets are more than a tribute to the glory days of old-fashioned casino glamor -- they're a statement of values. (A real man should look snappy. Even when he's threatening people.) In this movie, the unexpected and touching romance that lights up Bernie's life is charming enough, but Shelly's hopeless battle to hold back the forces of modernity is extremely entertaining. He loves his clothes, his cars, his cocktails, his swank casino; turning it all into a soulless money machine is a fate worse than death to him.

Baldwin is such an intelligent actor. He makes Shelly's valiant defense of his way of life -- not exactly mainstream, but it could be worse, as we discover -- almost a last stand of elegance against utility, humanity against Mammon. You root for him even though you he's really a bad guy -- and he's doomed.