For a while during the formative stages of the 2000s, it looked as though writer and director Wayne Kramer was well on his way to becoming established as one of the loudest and most distinctive voices in the hard-boiled crime genre, with The Cooler landing cult favorite status not long after its release in November of 2003.
As far as feature-length debuts go, a twisting and turning crime thriller steeped in double-crossing, backstabbing, and accomplished performances is one hell of a way to make a splash, with the relatively lo-fi flick recouping its modest $4 million budget two and a half times over at the box office on its way to securing a Certified Fresh score of 77 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
The cast is exactly as eclectic as you’d expect from such a distinctive tale, too, with William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin being joined by the likes of Maria Bello, Paul Sorvino, model Estella Warren, and even Joey Fatone of NSYNC for some reason. The plot finds Macy using his status and reputation as a gambling jinx to pressure those around him into losing, but after striking up a relationship with a waitress, his professional luck begins to take a turn for the worse.
Almost the very definition of a hidden gem, streaming subscribers have thankfully managed to uncover The Cooler in their numbers, with FlixPatrol naming it as one of the top-viewed titles on Starz. Kramer’s follow-up Mindhunters may have been awful, but Paul Walker vehicle Running Scared was another word-of-mouth home video hit. It’s been a decade since he stepped behind the camera on a movie, though, which is a crying shame.