Last Orders

At the risk of sounding like a junior high paper, Fred Schepisi's Last Orders is like unwrapping a present from an old friend. At the outset, the film looks fairly normal, maybe even a little bland. But Schepisi slowly peels away a multitude of layers behind each of its characters, revealing secrets and motivations behind the way each of them acts. Much of Last Orders, which is based on the book by Graham Swift, unfolds in flashback, as three friends gather together to reminisce about the death of their friend Jack (Michael Caine, Miss Congeniality, Get Carter). When the movie begins, everybody is an unknown. Schepisi literally throws the audience into the lives of these characters. As the movie progresses and the flashbacks begin, things begin to make more sense. The audience gets a good understanding of why these people are who they are.

Last Orders is yet another film this year to spotlight great British acting (others including Gosford Park, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and The Fellowship of the Ring). The six principals here are simply amazing. Jack's last wishes were to have his ashes scattered off the pier of a distant town. His friends Ray (Bob Hoskins, Enemy at the Gates, American Virgin), Vic (Tom Courtenay, Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?, The Boy From Mercury), Lenny (David Hemmings, Spy Game, Gladiator) and his son Vince (Ray Winstone, Sexy Beast, Love, Honor, and Obey) undertake the long trip with Jack's ashes. Jack's wife Amy (Helen Mirren, Gosford Park, Greenfingers) decides to stay behind. Each person's memories bring forth a different aspect of Jack's life, and his meaning for them.

The movie starts slowly, only because Schepisi (Fierce Creatures, I.Q.) begins with so little information on the table. It's immediately clear that although there is great love between Jack and his family, there is a barrier present. He is disappointed that Vince did not follow him into the family business. There is also something unspoken between Jack and Amy. His friends seem much more pragmatic about his passing. They are sad, but they also recognize that the need to move on. Each person must come to terms with unresolved issues left by Jack's death. It also forces some of them to look at their own lives. All of them are nearing the twilight of their lives. The acting begins to flesh out as more of the story unfolds.

Hoskins and Mirren have the meatiest roles. Like her role in Gosford Park, Mirren's character gains more depth as the viewer learns more about her history. She is a profoundly sad person who manages to hide this from most of the people she knows. Mirren's performance is intensely strong. Hoskins has a lot of screen time with her, again, for reasons unrevealed until later. He is able to match her depth of emotion. Ray is Jack's oldest friend. They met in the war and have been friends ever since. Hemmings and Courtenay do not get as much screen time, but their characters still have important parts to play in the story. Schepisi jumps to many points in the past, sometimes even flashing back within flashbacks. It is engrossing more than confusing. Last Orders uses its stars for most of the flashbacks, and younger actors for trips far back into the past. By the time Last Orders is over, it does what most films strive for and fail to do; examine completely the thoughts and motivations behind a character, allowing audiences to understand and sympathize completely.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 49 minutes, Rated R for sexuality and some language.

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