The Bucket List (2007)


The Bucket List
Dir. Rob Reiner
Premiered December 16, 2007

The Bucket List is not a good movie. It was trashed by critics. It is consistent with director Rob Reiner’s work, which to date consists of a decade of classic films followed by a much longer ongoing period of outright garbage. And yet the term “bucket list” lives on.

Elderly Los Angeles mechanic Carter (Morgan Freeman) is diagnosed with cancer. Despite chemotherapy, he is given months to live. At the hospital, he gets an unexpected roommate: Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson), the hospital’s fabulously wealthy owner and an elder playboy, who is forced to stay with Carter for public relations purposes as his privatization program is alleged to reduce the quality of care. In 2007, even The Bucket List needed to get a little political.

The two men couldn’t be more different, but when Edward discovers Carter’s “bucket list,” an unfulfilled list of dying dreams from his college years, he’s intrigued and decides to bring Carter along on a trip around the world to cross everything off the list.

The term was coined by the film’s screenwriter, Justin Zackham, who wrote his own as a young man, and developed it into a screenplay not long after. That the script was written in the late 1990s is unsurprising; The Bucket List is an exemplar of “feel-good” movies– slick, star-studded dramedies with low stakes that supposedly warmed the heart and jerked the tears. Films like this constituted the bulk of studio releases from the mid-1990s until the 9/11 attacks made their brand of tacky sentimentality deeply unpopular.

But The Bucket List is also evocative of a new type of inconsequential dramedy: the “Old Guys Rule” movie, usually a rom-com, in which a litany of A-list geriatrics from the days when big stars were the key to high grosses prove they’ve still “got it.” I have yet to see one such film in this generation that is good. The Bucket List’s script is full of hokey dialogue and inconsistent characterization, surprisingly one-note peripheral characters (Sean Hayes as Edward’s beleaguered assistant feels like a shrill imitation of a similar character in The Darjeeling Limited). But the film’s main sin is that which it shares with almost all feel-good movies: it’s boring.

Sign This Was Made in 2007
Edward watches a Dodger game on network TV, with Vin Scully as host.

Additional Notes
A man of Carter’s generation went to college– presumably in the 1950s, when only 6% of American men had degrees– and he’s still an auto mechanic?

How Did It Do?
The Bucket List grossed $175.4 million against a $45 million budget, and perhaps earned a place in the English language, but critics at large did not take to its vaguely curmudgeonly brand of Canter’s in-house schmaltz, earning it a 40% rating on RottenTomatoes.

No great filmmaker has ever hit such a wall as Rob Reiner. Once having batted 1.000 with classics This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men, and Misery, he has spent the last 25 years trying and failing to recover critically from the disaster of North. In the decade-plus since The Bucket List, Reiner’s releases have slipped further into obscurity, though no closer to the acclaim he once earned.

Next Time: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story


Gone Baby Gone (2007)


Gone Baby Gone
Dir. Ben Affleck
Premiered at Deauville September 5, 2007

Ben Affleck wasn’t in a great place professionally in 2007. Already overshadowed by collaborator and best friend Matt Damon, Affleck’s 2000s were studded with notorious flops and critically-derided disasters, and got more attention for his romantic partners than for his work. I have no idea what the expectations were for his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, but I’m sure news of his ambitions behind the camera were viewed with skepticism. After the film came out, though? Let’s just say he had a very different career afterward.

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby Gone begins with the disappearance of five-year-old Amanda McCready (Madeline O’Brien) in the tight-knit community of Dorchester in Boston. Upset over the lack of progress by police, the girl’s aunt (Amy Madigan) seeks out private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) in the hope that they can find the truth. In their investigations, Kenzie and Gennaro chafe against the police captain in charge of finding lost children (Morgan Freeman), but find an unlikely ally in Remy Bressant (Ed Harris), the iron-willed detective in charge of the case, which exposes mother Helene (Amy Ryan) as a neglectful parent with deeply suspect links to Boston’s underground.

When the investigation is seemingly solved, Kenzie is alerted to another missing child case involving some former suspects in Amanda’s kidnapping, causing Amanda’s case to unravel and threaten Kenzie’s good-natured idealism as he clashes with the cynic Bressant.

Except for his eye for landscapes and passion for his hometown, Gone Baby Gone did not mark Affleck out as a particularly identifiable director. Luckily, he did a damn good job anyway. The film is gorgeous, filling every inch of the screen with an intimate and uncompromising feel for Boston and its people. Affleck’s brother Casey, last seen creeping us out in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, perfectly captures a man who is above the fray but not above the people in it. More than anything, Gone Baby Gone offers a striking moral outlook that is rarely presented in film: that in order to be good, one must uphold the law and work to make a better world.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
The date appears in several places. The working classes of Boston resemble Britain’s chavs. Helene proclaims “it feels like 9/11.”

Additional Notes
My word, Gone Baby Gone doesn’t dispell any stereotypes about Boston. Literally every civilian besides Kenzie and Gennaro is presented as a boorish, provincial, violent racist.

Does anyone else see this title and immediately think of the Violent Femmes?

How Did It Do?
Gone Baby Gone grossed $34.6 million against a $19 million budget, a stellar 94% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes, and netted Amy Ryan an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Ben Affleck’s subsequent career as a director yielded The Town and Argo before losing critics and audiences alike with 2016’s Live by Night, ironically another Dennis Lehane adaptation.

Next Time: Nightwatching