The box office success of a movie like 'The Bucket List' makes me happy. Though I'm not even middle-aged, I cheer when Hollywood realizes that there are potential senior audiences out there that actually want to go see movies made for and about themselves. 'The Bucket List' tackles adult subject matter rarely seen on the big screen, much less with A-list stars like Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. If 'The Bucket List' is nevertheless not a great film, it's mere existence is still cause for celebration.
Freeman stars as our narrator Carter Chambers. He's a devoted family man and father who has lived a pleasant, if unspectacular, life. That will immediately change, however, when Carter is diagnosed with cancer and given one year to live. He's also placed in the hospital next to another terminal patient, the irascible Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson). Cole, sensing Carter's hidden lust for life, convinces him to embark on a "bucket list" -- a list of all things they want to do before they die. With the help of Cole's uppity assistant (Sean Hayes), the pair break out of the cancer ward and set out to complete their lists, learning a series of final, painful truths about the life and death along the way.
Written by Justin Zackham and directed by Rob Reiner, the smartest thing that 'The Bucket List' does is take its time in introducing us to Carter and Cole. The film does not play coy with the darker aspects of battling cancer, nor treat it as a cheap excuse for sentimentality. Some moments are downright agonizing (Nicholson in particular is amazingly game in allowing himself to look terrible), so by the time the pair concoct their bucket list, we are fully able to empathize with their plight. On paper, the concept may sound cheesy, but the execution is surprisingly potent.
'The Bucket List' is less successful, ironically, in its moments of levity, as Carter and Cole mug their way through a series of self-contained montages (skydiving, getting a tattoo etc.), the effect is a bit too cute and jokey for my taste. The film does continually right itself by always striking back with moments of poignancy, mining little truths about mortality along the way, it's just that it forces you to swallow a bit too much slapstick along the way.
The uneven tone eventually leads to the film's denounement, which is preordained from the opening prologue. It is no surprise what is going to happen to these characters, and 'The Bucket List' earns any tears it wrings from us by not pulling any punches. There is no cop-out, feel-good ending, and it is to the great credit of Zackham and Reiner ('Bucket List' is undoubtedly the best film he's made in eons) that they see Carter and Cole all the way through to their logical destination. I suspect 'The Bucket List' proved to be such a hit with mature audiences because it is anything but a downer -- by dealing squarely and honestly with death, the movie proves itself to be life-affirming.
As fond as I was of 'The Bucket List,' it remains an imperfect movie. I found many moments affecting, some far too mawkish and comic, and perhaps in the end, the sum is still not as great as its parts. But here's a movie that touches upon topics you just don't see in mainstream Hollywood films, and it's strongly acted by both Nicholson and Freeman. Even if you think you'd have nothing in common with the two main characters of 'The Bucket List,' you just might be surprised at how much you come to care for them by the end of their journey.
'The Bucket List' is presented in 1080p/VC-1 video (1.85:1). For a film that isn't meant to be a visual tour de force, the image quality is generally strong, and sometimes even excellent.
Befitting a new release, the source is absolutely spotless -- there's not a blemish to be found. Blacks are nice and inky, and contrast is generally well balanced though there is occasional blooming in bright and exterior shots. Colors are quite intense, particularly the use of deep blues, greens, and browns. Unfortunately, the hotness of the image can sometimes dull colors, but overall the palette appears striking. Detail is pretty terrific, with even the widest shots flush with fine texture. Shadow delineation is also very good. Finally, compression artifacts are not a problem aside from a tad bit of noise here or there. Despite a couple of weak points, 'The Bucket List' looks very good indeed.
Eschewing high-res audio, Warner has shafted 'The Bucket List' with only standard Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround soundtracks in English, French and Spanish (all are 640kbps). It's a lame omission, though to be honest the sedate nature of the film means the audio is nevertheless serviceable.
Certainly, 'The Bucket List' sounds fine. Dynamic range is healthy enough, and this is definitely a polished, A-list Hollywood effort. Dialogue is the star of the show and sounds prominent and clear. Low bass is appropriate to the material. Surrounds are rarely engaged for anything meaningful, only a bit of score bleed and the occasional discrete effect. Again, however, given the dramatic nature of the material, there is nothing major to complain about here -- if also nothing at all noteworthy.
Surprising given the box office success of 'The Bucket List,' the standard DVD release contains a pithy batch of supplemental features, all of which are ported over to the Blu-ray. Most of the video-based extras are presented in full 1080/VC-1 video, and I could find no subtitle options.
'The Bucket List' is an unusual Hollywood film -- a movie that's actually about characters older than 35 years-old. It's comedic, poignant, and sometimes profound, if also a bit maudlin, too. This Blu-ray is a fine effort, with very good video and audio, and a few nice high-def exclusives. 'The Bucket List' is worth a rental, and even a purchase if you're a fan of the film.