The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Bucket List

What do you want to do before you die? Things you want to see and do, people you want to meet, places you want to visit, that sort of thing. It's a simple thought, all the things the world has to offer before you....kick the bucket! Words are fun! That's the basic premise behind 2007's The Bucket List.

Sharing a hospital room, Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) and Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) seemingly have very little in common. Carter is family fan with a wife, kids and grandchildren, working for years as a mechanic to support them all. Edward is rich beyond any needs -- he actually owns the hospital, a lot of hospitals -- without any family other than a quartet of ex-wives. The only thing they really have in common is their diagnosis, both men have been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and have been given anywhere from six months to a year to live. Bonding almost in spite of their differences, they decide to make the most of their last few months, doing all those things they wanted to do but never got around to. Leaving their hospital rooms behind, Carter and Edward intend to enjoy what little time they have.

From director Rob Reiner, this 2007 drama-comedy was mismarketed if you ask me. It was billed as a lighthearted comedy of sorts, goofy and dumb as two old guys make their way around the world doing all sorts of crazy stuff. 'List' does have those moments where the physical comedy is embraced, but thankfully not used too much and overdone. What is it then? It is a pretty good human drama with some touches of humor. 'List' embraces the inherent darkness of its premise, two senior citizens finding out their death is coming sooner than they expected, while still having those moments of humor. Just a fair warning, don't go in expecting 90-plus minutes of laugh out loud goofiness. There are some laughs, but it's far more of a drama than it was made out to be.

Now all that said, laughs in a comedy or some actual emotions in a drama, it's Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. This is quite the legendary one-two punch in terms of acting power, and we're the beneficiaries of the casting. Neither performance is of the award-winning variety, the script from Justin Zackham a solid job, but both actors play up their parts. Freeman is his typical reliable self as Carter, a family man who's started to struggle with his older years, especially now that he's more of a grandparent than a parent. He's not upset he had to care his family, but he does wish maybe he could have accomplished more. Nicholson seems to be playing a variation on...well, himself, but there's depth to his Edward Cole part. He's been married four times but he also loves being single which causes some problems. Very different individuals but very interesting characters.

So what are they up to? They intend to accomplish a lot, ranging from visiting the Great Pyramids in Cairo and the base of Mount Everest in the Himalayas in Nepal, from skydiving to driving classic Shelby Mustangs, doing a safari to visiting the Taj Mahal. The episodic storytelling is cool, covering a lot of ground, even if the CGI is especially bad in the skydiving sequence. The checking off of items on the bucket list becomes secondary though, the focus more on the odd couple-like friendship that develops between the two men. During their travels and adventures, they do get to know each other, know what drove them to this point, what their lives have been like. Their scenes in the hospital are just as good as they first get to know each other, both knowing the other is struggling but able to move on and just talk or play cards. There's an effortless charm to the friendship/relationship, a chemistry that pros like Freeman and Nicholson make look criminally easy.

The rest of the cast is limited to a couple key supporting parts. Sean Hayes is very good as Cole's much-maligned assistant, always ready to bust his boss if he's asking for it. Also look for Rob Morrow as Cole's doctor who must give him the tough news while Beverly Todd plays Carter's wife of 40-plus years. Freeman and Nicholson are in almost every single scene -- together or separately -- so much more of a supporting cast wouldn't have been needed.

I wasn't sure what to expect of the ending here. My doomsday scenario had some miracle cure being invented so that the characters we've come to like are somehow, some way saved from certain death. I won't give any spoilers away, but it is a very effective ending. There is a relative twist revealed in the last 20-25 minutes that caught me by surprise mostly because I thought I had it figured out long before the reveal. The finale itself works well, a fitting end about two different men with very different backgrounds who become friends through their similar, life-altering medical conditions. An enjoyable, low-key movie.

The Bucket List (2007): ***/****

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