Alec Baldwin's textured, Oscar-nominated performance as volcanic Shelly Kaplow was the highlight of The Cooler, director Wayne Kramer's anti-''Ocean's Eleven'' fable, one of last year's best-acted films. An old-school Vegas casino chief, Kaplow beats up women and manipulates his best friend, yet when he finally gets his comeuppance, you can't help but feel sympathetic toward the anachronistic brute.
William H. Macy is equally brilliant as Bernie Lootz, the walking curse whose life -- and luck -- change for the better when he falls for a cocktail waitress (a daring Maria Bello). While Baldwin chews up the scenery, Macy's sad eyes and nervous grin enhance every scene without stealing it. Although Kramer and Frank Hannah wrote the film specifically for the character actor, he was initially hesitant about another loser role (per ''Anatomy of a Scene,'' the one interesting bonus feature). The romantic angle won him over, though, so prepare to see a different side of Macy -- a bit too much of it, actually, during the love scenes.
Unfortunately, Baldwin is a no-show in the modest DVD extras, but Kramer can't say enough about him during his two commentaries -- one with Hannah and cinematographer Jim Whitaker, the other with composer Mark Isham. The director dances around Baldwin's reported on-set prickliness, calling him the ''most talented SOB alive'' and joking about the actor's not-so-subtle influences on dialogue and close-ups. Nice, but -- and I never thought I'd say this -- where's a Baldwin when you need one?