The Bucket List (2007) dir. Rob Reiner
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes
“The Bucket List” is a surprisingly engrossing and thoughtful film about dying. Jack Nicholson’s character asks the question early on in the film, ‘would you want to know the date of your death?’ It’s a surprisingly profound question for a film, which, according to the marketing campaigns and trailer, was another film about grumpy old men acting silly for the sake of comedy. Instead “the Bucket List” is a well crafted character film featuring two great actors acting out a moderately intelligent script.
Morgan Freeman’s typical morose but soothing voiceover is heard describing his friend Edward Cole and how he lived the final years of his adventurous life. Freeman plays Carter Chambers who first meets Cole (Jack Nicholson) sharing a room in the hospital. They’re both diagnosed with cancer, and despite the fact Cole owns the hospital, his policy of two beds per room – no exceptions – holds for even him. Cole and Chambers are the typical odd couple - Cole, a jetsetting/playboy health care entrepreneur, and Chambers a humble working class mechanic and do-good family man. Cole and Chambers are not oil and water though, they hit it off immediately and start a unique friendship.
When they both receive the bad news prognosis they decide to take a vacation together to fulfill each of their lives’ unfulfilled dreams. This ‘to do list’ takes them across the world, skydiving out of airplanes, racing stock cars and other extreme activities. As their journey progresses lifelong insecurities are discovered, and their list changes gradually to list items of deeper emotional meaning, which will ultimately fulfill the lives even greater.
“The Bucket List” has the foundation of a solid character-based script, and the great acting talents of Nicholson and Freeman elevate the material to something beyond what could be conveyed in the silly Holiday-friendly trailer.
The first act is key to establishing the tone and the characters’ burgeoning relationship. Unlike the “Odd Couple” mold, bickering comic conflict is kept to a minimum, instead we develop sympathy for both men as they go through the rigors of chemotherapy, surgery and the emotional distress of knowing the end is near. The audience discovers Cole and Chambers over the course of the film instead of relying on clichés to separate the characters into archetypes.
Let’s not confuse “The Bucket List” with Ingmar Bergman though either. Though the characters are interesting and likeable they don’t run much deeper than the honest working class family man and the millionaire playboy with no family – which, of course, implies that the family man is the one who is actually ‘wealthier’.
Some sloppy bluescreen matting which puts Jack and Morgan in Egypt and other places around the world is distracting, same with those moments of silliness which we saw in the trailer and the especially syrupy denouement. But the sum of its parts is a noble film worthy of the body of work of both actors. It’s also Rob Reiner’s best film since the mid 90’s and worthy of a look even if you’re under aged 65. Enjoy.
"The Bucket List" is available on DVD and Blu-Ray this week from Warner Home Video