U.S. Release Date: December 25, 2007
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: Justin Zackham
Producer: Neil Meron, Justin Zackham (executive), Craig Zadan
Composer: Marc Shaiman
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes, Rob Morrow
Running Time: 1 hour and 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (language, including a sexual reference)

Strong Male Bonding from Rob Reiner
by Scott Holleran

Rob Reiner's The Bucket List is another high-quality picture from one of Hollywood's underrated directors. Jack Nicholson plays a businessman who owns a hospital corporation—one that stresses patient turnover—opposite Morgan Freeman as a middle class family man.

Both men are dying of cancer, a miserable disease that is not sugarcoated here, to Mr. Reiner's, and writer Justin Zackham's, credit, though it is uncomfortable to watch certain clinically accurate scenes. But, cancer is cancer—a major killer that doesn't get proper attention—and this buddy movie establishes its predicate with a fine balance of honesty and tact.

Also, this movie is for men—which is to say it is about men, for a change, not about macho types or the typical depictions of husbands and fathers as breadwinning automatons or mindless dolts, studs and trash. Keep the eyes closed and the hearts open, as this journey's narrative suggests, and buckle up for a refreshingly rocky, touching and humorous ride.

Mr. Freeman's Carter props it up, leading with a voiceover and carrying the viewer into a gentle story of two strangers living their final days. Mr. Nicholson's Edward, his usual variation on the ornery cuss, is more human here than the hammy actor's past types; human in the best sense. Crotchety, out-of-shape Edward skeptically judges his roommate as an individual, letting the old man earn his trust, not an easy task, gradually bestowing upon his fellow patient the greatest gift he can offer: a hierarchy of values—and the will to act on it.

Concretes on the list—the title refers to goals for before one kicks the bucket—occasionally leave something to be desired, mired in a sort of California mysticism that has the ailing duo, funded by Edward's wealth, chasing temples and pyramids, when they seem more likely to seek a night on the town or a visit to Monticello or Lake Shore Drive. But take it as a quest for the best. Parachuting, race car driving and other excursions engage Carter and Edward in a steady climb toward personal achievement.

In a nicely scored modern fable, they jump from planes, they yell with abandon and they stretch their limits, which may seem obvious given the premise, but they also argue, reflect and express emotion, without becoming mawkish. What an elevated, if simple, experience to watch two male screen stars relate to one another, competing like pros on a race track, having an intelligent conversation about faith and, in one of the most astute scenes, carefully stopping a friend from denigrating himself in a vulnerable moment.

With Sean Hayes as Edward's capable assistant—a running joke that's more cruel than funny—Rob Morrow as a doctor and lovely Beverly Todd, snugly fitting as Carter's loyal, discerning wife, the pair travel the world as best as they can in terminal stages. Facing their fears and owning up to mistakes—one of them finally declares: "it's my cancer," causing a desire to cheer—acting out the list is predictable, with each man living his life to the fullest.

Like Mr. Reiner's The Story of Us, The Bucket List has an even-handedness in exploring two different persons in common struggle. Carter is simple and honorable. Edward is complicated and brash. Whether they're addressing the five stages of grief, discussing the dynamics of marriage and children or visiting a village in the Orient as they prepare to end their lives with dignity, these two men bond in a partnership of grace, decency and joy. In other words, they act like men—with a rebellious streak to put away the bucket list in style. A neat ending to a good movie about making order before one's final departure.

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