The Bucket List Review
Is it because most of the powers that be in Hollywood are well past middle age that we are suddenly getting a rash of mainstream films about aging? Interesting, as aging is the one thing that Hollywood generally tries to turn a blind eye to, but cannot be overlooked forever; watching a puff piece on Indiana Jones, it was horrifying to see Lucas, Spielberg and Ford pretending that they looked the same as when they started shooting Raiders, while surrounded by fresh faced young crew members not daring to expose the Emperor’s New Clothes. But The Bucket List sort of gets around this by being a film that is less about death than it is about wish fulfilment – death all wrapped up in a cosy package – a sort of final gap year, if you like.
A long time ago, freshman Carter Chambers (Freeman) was asked by his philosophy tutor to create a ‘bucket list’ – a collection of things to do and see before kicking the bucket. But like most people, Carter’s life got in the way, and while he was busy raising a family and running a business his list turned into a mental exercise designed to pass the time while working on a car. And then Carter finds himself in hospital, undergoing chemotherapy, and sharing a room with billionaire Edward Cole (Nicholson), owner of the hospital and creator of its (unbelievable in America) no private rooms policy. With plenty of time to think, and not much time left, the two men realise that they want to use the time they have left well.
It helps, of course, to be dying in company with a billionaire.
So the two men check themselves out, against all medical advice, and to the anguish of Carter’s wife (Todd), and head off round the world on the adventure of a lifetime.
Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman; what’s not to like? This seems to have been the basic premise of The Bucket List, relying on these two great actors, Rob Reiner, and a warm and fuzzy concept to soothe audiences into believing they were watching something classy. The performances are fine: Nicholson is suave, Freeman is dignified, and they do what they can, but the film is so unrealistic and the characters so thin that the story fails to catch fire.
It tries to inject a little bit of realism by having Edward losing his hair and throwing up, but soon he’s back on his feet, and he and Carter are flying off around the world in Carter’s private jet, in pursuit of a wish list that is much more photogenic thatn Carter’s rather vague ‘see something majestic’, and enables these two dying old men to climb the pyramids, wander round the Himalayas complaining about the fog, muse on love at the Taj Mahal, go sky-diving, and drive race cars in an annoyingly trite ‘boys will be boys’ package. Having given all his life to his family, Carter seems to feel he’s owed some me time, but I’m not sure that Edward has ever had anything else.
Early on we are introduced to the idea that Carter is a facts man – he is an expert at the tv quiz Jeopardy – and Freeman seems happy to switch over to cruise control, recounting facts and acting as a sort of informal tour guide; Nicholson, being a little bit naughtier, has more fun, especially in his relationship with Thomas (Hayes), his personal assistant and Man Friday, who gets to come with them on their little trip and seems to be Edward’s only friend. But of course Carter’s superior form of humanity rubs off on Edward – because Morgan Freeman is a saintly black man whose main role in life is to improve the white people around him.
The only insight The Bucket List offers on death is, if you must do it, make sure you share a room with a billionaire.
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