The Bucket List – 2007

Director Rob Reiner
Starring Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, Sean Hayes, Beverly Todd, Rob Morrow, Alfonso Freeman
Screenplay Justin Zackham

Rob Reiner is a remarkable director.  He has a knack for making things simultaneously funny and poignant.  The Bucket List may be his finest work.  Everyone talks about a bucket list since this movie came out in 2007.  There’s even a damn fine travel website ( that uses the name.  Increasingly few people have any concept of the movie to which the phrase is tied.

The concept is pretty straightforward.  Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are Edward Cole and Carter Chambers, two persons who meet in a hospital room whilst battling cancer.  Pretty soon they both find out that they are terminal.  Soon after this, Cole comes across a list of things Carter wanted to do before he died.  Edward co-opts this idea and decides that they are going to do a combined list together.

How they do this is simple.  Cole has a lot of money.  Much is made of Cole’s Scrooge like attributes.  To counter this, we have Carter as a kindly philosophical type. Reiner brings the two to a friendship through much suffering and a few laughs.  This could be seen as a rush job, but Freeman and Nicholson are great enough at what they do to pull it off.

This is convincing because the two characters are never quite convinced themselves where their friendship is leading.  Attempts to read into the story of the other are met with a distinct hostility, and we see the trip disintegrate.  Zackham and Reiner are smart enough to leave bread crumbs here for the story to lead back to solid ground.

The importance of the film is in the fact that even as both characters are marching to the gallows, the characters never get too weepy, nor do they lose their sense of humor.  It’s a delicate balance, and it takes the consummate skill of all involved to keep the film on its even keel.

The location scenes for The Bucket List are all real, and they look remarkable.  The second unit shots in particular (Giza, Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China) as well as Reiner’s work in Tanzania all have a magical sheen that seems too good to be true.  The joy and peace in the faces, posture and canter of  Edward and Carter bring you to the immediacy of their situations and the courage with which they dare to live in the sheer face of death.

Faith is addressed in very effective terms in The Bucket List.  We have the back and forth of the two principal characters and one has to know where that is headed. Better still, is the presentation of Edward’s assistant, Matthew/Thomas (Hayes)..  He is there through everything lingering out of view.  The verbal slaps bespeak a fondness that kind words would fail to show.  Through it all, Hayes subtle delivery goes counter to everything he’s done in the past. He’s like Sam Gamgee with a higher IQ.

Reiner’s career has cooled a lot in the last decade. The climate outside of big blockbusters has moved towards independent fare, cutting down the number of medium budget dramas in which he specialized.  This has not affected the quality of his work, as movies like Flipped and The Magic of Belle Isle indicate.  As long as he can scrape together a few bucks, one would benefit from following his muse.

(***** out of *****)

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