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Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008 02:16 pm

Last hurrah

A message to live life to the fullest

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There’s no question that Rob Reiner’s latest effort, The Bucket List, is a contrived tale — its premise is a not-so-distant cousin to sitcom plots and there are more than a few holes in the story — and yet the film contains a deeply felt, emotionally honest core that trumps any of its narrative flaws. It’s a genuinely moving testament to the importance of living life to the fullest, not simply in the face of death but every day. Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) is an entrepreneur whose only goal in life is to make money. One of his more lucrative ventures is the practice of privatizing hospitals and running them in an efficient, by-the book manner. Patient comfort isn’t a priority. His business practices come back to haunt him when he falls ill and is admitted to one of the hospitals his company runs and forced to share a room with a stranger, Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman). The two men soon learn that they have something in common: Each has cancer that’s progressed to an advanced stage, and each has been given just months to live. They decide to go out with a bang, compiling a list of things they want to do or see before kicking the bucket. Their last hurrah is made possible by Cole’s fortune, which enables them to travel the world and see majestic sights, procure antique automobiles to race, and skydive over remote regions. However, it’s the more modest endeavors on the list that prove the most meaningful. The pair’s intention to help a total stranger may seem too vague on the surface to yield any true insight on their moral condition, and Cole’s intention of kissing the most beautiful girl in the world is suggested as nothing more than a self-serving stunt. However, these and other seemingly modest goals result in moments of clarity that put the men’s plight and their lives in a perspective that no amount of conscious calculation could achieve.
What’s interesting about the film, written by Justin Zackham, is that it becomes an examination not only of faith but also of how to approach life. Cole, an atheist, is used to living life on the edge and has experienced good fortune, but he’s an atheist. Chambers is devoutly religious, yet he’s afraid to take chances. Obviously a great deal of credit for the movie’s success must be given to the pairing of Nicholson and Freeman. These two screen veterans do all that we expect of them, making what could have been a trite exercise a meaningful and moving experience by injecting a sense of humanity into their characters. There are some film actors as good as these two, but none is better, and the stars’ skill elevates this material, simply because they make us care. Some will quibble that The Bucket List is choppy because of its episodic nature, that it moves too quickly from one event from another and is far too calculated to be believed. They may be right in these observations, and I certainly wouldn’t argue too hard to convince them otherwise — but my heart tells me something different, and the feelings this film elicited from me, and will bring out in others, can’t be denied.
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