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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Bucket List
The Bucket List
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // June 10, 2008
List Price: $28.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted June 8, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:
Here's a news flash for you twenty- and thirty-somethings out there reading this review: in the blink of an eye, you'll be a forty- or even, heaven forfend, a fifty- or sixty-something with ever increasing awareness of your own mortality. Whatever age you are, you are bound to be touched by The Bucket List, an astoundingly heartfelt film directed by Rob Reiner which was badly marketed for its theatrical release as a buddy comedy, albeit one with death as its subtext. While there are comedic elements to The Bucket List, there are just as many fine character moments in dramatic settings, and the film resists easy classification. In fact, when I was watching the closing credits and saw Frank Capra III listed as second unit director and co-producer, it immediately dawned on me that The Bucket List would be the kind of movie Frank Capra himself would be making were he around today--equal parts slapstick, drama and character study, with just a sprinkling of schmaltz thrown in for good measure.

The Bucket List's premise can be pretty easily summed up in a short sentence or two, but that gives little insight into the emotional depths the film is able to mine. Jack Nicholson plays megamillionaire Edward Cole, and Morgan Freeman plays working class mechanic Carter Chambers, both of whom discover they're dying of cancer as the film opens. Stuck together in a hospital room in a hospital that Cole owns (he has championed his budget cutting by saying all rooms are double, no exceptions, and now finds himself hoist on his own petard), the two start as strangers, even slightly antagonistic ones, but slowly forge a friendship as each has to endure the hardships of chemotherapy. When Cole sees Chambers scribbling on a paper one day, he snatches it from him and discovers Chambers' "Bucket List," things he wants to do before he kicks the bucket. Cole's financial wherewithal makes that an easy list to actualize, and he decides he wants to take part, too. That sets up the bulk of the rest of the film, which follows the pair's world travels and sometimes whimsical exploits.

The film is anchored solidly by two standout performances by Nicholson and Freeman. One always expects a sort of understated eloquence from Freeman, and he does not disappoint here. His Carter is world-weary, disillusioned, yet resilient, sadly resigned to the working stiff hand that fate has dealt him. Nicholson on the other hand frequently isn't able to escape his off-screen persona in his on-screen performances, and though he relies a tad too much on his patented raised-eyebrows grimace, his Edward Cole is one of his finest performances, especially in the last half of the film when Cole's family history comes into play. Nicholson bares his soul more than usual in this film, revealing layers of rage and sadness that he has rarely exposed previously. The sparring relationship between the two is alternately delightful and touching in equal measure. Sean Hayes is also along for the ride as Cole's harried assistant, and provides an occasional punchline, though I half-expected him to break out into a "just Jack" monologue. The best supporting performance is by the incredibly lovely Beverly Todd as Carter's long suffering wife, who is less than pleased to see her dying husband off on a whirlwind tour of the world in what could be his last months on earth.

Scenarist Justin Zackham does a mostly superlative job in tracing the changing emotional climate of these two as they face their impending demise even as they see one amazing sight after another. While occasional segues are abruptly handled (Carter's eruption at Cole on Mt. Everest seems to come out of nowhere, for example), for the most part there is some finely crafted dialogue and beautifully detailed moments between all of the characters. Reiner has a sure hand on both the performances, reigning in Nicholson's trenchant qualities admirably while giving Freeman full measure to display the sort of intrinsic integrity he does so well. There's also a beautiful visual sweep to The Bucket List. I was surprised to see no location information listed in the credits, so I must surmise that the second unit did the superb master shots in various locales and that Freeman and Nicholson were green-screened in later. It's all handled seamlessly, however, aided by a really nicely understated score by Marc Shaiman.

The Bucket List is an odd duck of a film, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Dealing frankly and at times painfully with mortality, the film is able to rend equal amounts of laughter and tears out of two characters whose life stories intersect just as they are drawing to an inevitable close.

The DVD

Video:
The DVD offers an excellent enhanced 1.78:1 transfer which sports well-saturated color. Clarity and crispness are also top-notch.

Sound:
The DD 5.1 soundtrack is great, with excellent separation and fidelity. Quite a bit of care has been shown especially in separation, which you'll hear to a tee in the drag racing sequence. There are also French and Spanish 5.1 soundtracks available, as well as subtitles in all three languages.

Extras:
There is a brief featurette featuring screenwriter Zackham intercut with scenes from the film. There's also a nice music video of John Mayer's touching song "Say," played over the closing credits. A DVD ROM hyperlink provides access to Warner's website. There is also the full frame version of the movie on the flip side of this dual sided disc.

Final Thoughts:
If you come to The Bucket List with your heart wide open, to quote a recurring line in the film, you will have quite an enjoyable journey. With the same sort of dialectic of comedy and heartstring-pulling that made Terms of Endearment so popular years ago, The Bucket List defies categorization but provides plenty of substance in several genres all the same. Highly recommended.

____________________________________________
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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