Directed by Wayne Kramer. USA. 2002.

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Wayne Kramerís directorial debut based on his own screenplay is based in Americaís sin city, Las Vegas and tells the story of Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy), a born loser who loses his lack of luck to cool a hot table at the hotel Shangri La, run by his friend Shelly (Alec Baldwin).  Bernie is ready to leave Vegas at the end of the week, but in that week he must contend with the appearance of his son and pregnant daughter-in-law, the threat of the Shangri La being renovated into a modern grotesque image of its former self and a love affair with equally unlucky waitress Natalie (Maria Bello).

It sounds like a story you may have heard before and it does appear to be an amalgamation of a lot of movie clichés and performances.  The film is centred upon Macy being able to play such a terribly unlucky guy and Baldwin being able to play loud and violent as effectively as he did in Glengarry Glenn Ross, not ten years earlier.  But Kramer seems to be able to work so many themes into the film; love, friendship, trust, the use of violence in society (the film does owe a debt to Scorseseís Casino especially) and most importantly the past and how it can be changed.

The acting is brilliant by all, some are just passing like Ron Livingstone who plays a young hotshot casino boss who wants to replace Baldwin, but does not yet know his place.  But the real revelation is Bello who plays Natalie with a mix of genuine honesty and integrity when threatened by Shelly seeking retribution for Bernieís turn of good fortune.  The film does state that Bernieís change of luck is down to love coming into his life, but maybe the luck was coming about due to his wanting to leave.  There are great moments surrounding his luck; he gets cream for his coffee, the soundtrack of Vegas classics change to an upbeat mood and the smile of Macy is so bright and exuberant it cannot seem to not reciprocate the same feeling in a watching audience.

So while it may a mix of certain of films as I have mentioned and the performances in them, it does say a lot for Las Vegas itself and a nostalgia for the past years of the desert city and the Rat Pack years mostly.  An ageing crooner stuck on heroin playing before packed houses passes on and is replaced by an East Coast crooner of limited appeal apart from being young and attractive to the female audience who swoon to his every word (a good bit of casting here by using Joey Fatone of NíSync - a manufactured pop act from the east coast whose talents remain questionable).  

In the end; Bernie leaves town, Shelly moves on and the nostalgia is hit home in the end credits which are played over footage of old Vegas hotels like the Flamingo, Hilton and Aladdin being demolished to make way for those huge, family friendly resorts which sit on the strip now.  Nostalgia for Vegas will remain, but it moves on with the time still prevelant as this film is in the file of good Vegas movies.

Jamie Garwood
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