… The story’s strength is all in the telling; no synopsis will prepare you for the emotional charge that’s eventually delivered. And it’s unusual to find a screenplay that gives weight to parallel stories; Shelly isn’t simply an element in Bernie’s life, but is a free-standing character with a dilemma of his own.
THE COOLER is old-fashioned in the way the Shangri-La is old-fashioned, and I mean that as a compliment. This is a movie without gimmicks, hooks or flashy slickness. It gives us characters who are worn and real, who inhabit a world that is seen with unforgiving perception, whose fates have more to do with their personalities than with the requirements of the plot. 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.” (Roger Ebert, December 19, 2003)