Last Orders Review
Jack (Michael Caine), an East End butcher, has died. It was his last wish that his ashes be scattered in the sea off Margate Pier. So Jack's son Vince (Ray Winstone) and Jack's longtime friends and drinking buddies Vic (Tom Courtenay), Lenny (David Hemmings) and Ray (Bob Hoskins) get into Vince's car and drive off. Only Amy (Helen Mirren), Jack's widow, doesn't go with them: it's their daughter June's fiftieth birthday. June, conceived out of wedlock, was born brain-damaged, and has lived all her life in a home; Amy has visited her every week, despite June mever once responding to or recognising her. As the men drive to Margate, old rivalries come to the surface and plenty of truths are told...
Graham Swift's Booker Prizewinning novel used a series of interior monologues to tell a story where the past and memories rest heavily on the present. Australian director Fred Schepisi's screenplay uses flashbacks and even flashbacks within flashbacks to do the same thing. Last Orders takes place at seven different times, but two timelines hold the film together: the men's drive to Margate and a meeting on the Embankment between Ray and Amy, who – unknown to everyone else – had a brief affair years ago. In the meantime we have flashbacks to various points in the characters' lives: from young Jack and Amy's meeting while working in the fields of Kent, and Jack and Ray's National Service in Egypt, to the events leading up to Jack's death. This antichronological narrative (remiscent of some of Alain Resnais and Nicolas Roeg's films, not to mention Schepisi's own Six Degrees of Separation) means attention must be paid, but it's a tribute to the precision of Schepisi's script and direction that we never get lost. There are only a few moments that seem contrived. There are minor flaws brought about by evident budget constraints: the flashbacks to Egypt aren't quite convincing and it's obvious the purse-strings couldn't stretch to location filming overseas.
On the other hand, Last Orders has plenty going for it. The performances of that cast are all you could wish for. Amongst the other actors, I'll single out J.J. Feild who's uncannily accurate as a young Michael Caine.
Like all Schepisi's features except his first (The Devil's Playground), Last Orders is shot in Scope. This is Schepisi's first film without his regular cinematographer Ian Baker (who was committed to The Queen of the Damned). Brian Tufano makes a fine replacement with his richly textured lighting. That and Schepisi's characteristically inventive composition across the wide screen (he's an unacknowledged master of the format) makes what could have been low-key and televisual very cinematic. Their craftsmanship would alone make Last Orders a pleasure to watch.
Last Orders is finely made and superbly acted, though a slight downbeat feel and the major characters' ages will probably restrict it to a smaller, but very appreciative audience. Repeated viewings will be the true test of this film's depth; much of a first one will be spent keeping the timelines straight. This review is based on only one viewing, so I suspect it's very much an interim report, but somehow – and it's hard to say why – this film is funny and moving but not quite as much as it maybe should be. It's a very good film that just falls short of being an excellent one. But there are still plenty of reasons for seeing it.