This is a star vehicle all the way and Nicholson and Freeman give the performances you would expect of two Oscar-winning standouts. Freeman plays his role in an understated, elegant manner while Nicholson is in your face with some genuine scenery-chewing moments.
By now you've probably seen one of the trailers on TV so you know that this movie is about death and life - and the moments left to live. Reiner goes for sentimentality (especially at the end) and wrings every drop out of the movie's lump-in-the-throat moments. He ain't subtle.
This is a buddy movie but there are other elements at work here: the ongoing fear of living a life of quiet desperation; the oppressiveness of authority; the dreariness of daily work; a spiritual emptiness that seems to pervade modern life and, ultimately the quest for redemption.
Indeed, Scott Fitzgerald may have been correct when he asked: "What else does life have to offer, besides youth?"
The script has its moments but there are also obvious cliches.
And that's where Nicholson, Freeman and a great supporting cast (Sean Hayes, Beverly Todd, Rob Morrow) come in. They take the script and make it work.
Even though this movie has scored no better than 50/50 among the critics thus far (see Rotten Tomatoes) I'm recommending it for the performances and the universal themes.