Last Orders

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 05/02/04 14:14:43

"It's like a Chick Flick...only for men...and it's good."
5 stars (Awesome)

Old people will love this movie, and I mean that in the nicest possible way: "Last Orders" will almost certainly touch the heart of anyone old enough to have earned a 50-year friendship with someone.

One favorite topic of debate among intelligent movie freaks is the oft-maligned "chick flick". Detractors of the soppy sub-genre usually point to the filmsí overt pandering or predilection for tweaking the heartstrings in a decidedly manipulative fashion; supporters will say thereís nothing wrong with a good cornball cry every once in a while and that "simply sad" stories help us come to terms with our own emotional stability. Both sides have a point, and regardless of debate - itís obvious that the "three-hanky chick flick" is here to stay.

But here's what I want to know: Where are all the emotional "guy movies"? If my girlfriend gets to stay up late weeping over the untimely demise of a southern-fried Julia Roberts, why not me? (And NO: watching that gorgeous car in Christine earn a brutal beating doesnít count as an "emotional moment", though I know men who weep uncontrollably as that car gets demolished.) Iíd love to find a few movies that cause a lump to form in my throat - and preferably a few that donít deal almost exclusively with baseball. (Most tough guys are absolute suckers for an emotional baseball flick.) During my quest for a male-oriented movie with some non-sugar coated emotion, I came across one that choked me up quite a bit, kept my eyes caulked to the TV screen, and left quite a memorable impression. (i.e. Iíll be recommending this movie to people tomorrow and three years from now.)

Based on the novel by Graham Swift - and adapted by reliable writer/director Fred Schepisi - Last Orders would be considered a "chick flick" of the highest order... were it not populated almost solely by men. Told mostly through a series of dramatic flashbacks, Last Orders introduces us to four old English chaps, a quartet of lovable guys whoíve been friends for nearly fifty years.

As the film opens, we learn that one of the old gang has just died. Ray (Bob Hoskins) pops into the pub carrying an urn of Jackís ashes and announces the "last orders" of his recently departed pal: Jack wanted his ashes to be spread into the ocean off the pier of a nearby resort - a spot which holds tender memories for all involved.

Ray enlists the company of his two remaining compatriots, Vic (Tom Courtenay) and Lenny (David Hemmings), for the journey while Jackís son Vince (Ray Winstone) helpfully handles the driving. Taken from a distance, Last Orders is nothing more than your standard road trip movie loaded with a heaping helping of flashback sequences. But thanks to the superlative performances of literally everyone who steps onscreen, a poignant and altogether touching screenplay, and some wonderful directorial touches (particularly in relation to the splendid English countryside) - Last Orders is simply a fantastic little film.

As you might expect, each stop along the way to Jack's ultimate destination brings a new series of bittersweet memories. As the quartet of jovially grieving Englishman putter off to their final goal of Margate, Jackís widow is spending her last visit with her mentally retarded daughter. As the men draw closer to their destination, each character is introduced in their younger form, and we begin to see how these characters have grown to love one another over the years. If you've ever looked through a nearly forgotten family album and paged wistfully over the faces of family members long since buried, youíll feel a familiar tug as Last Orders unfolds.

Michael Caine plays Jack with a rascally charm and devilish grin, and though his character is flawed in a few sad ways, these shortcomings allow Caine to deliver one of his best performances in years. And the legendary character actor has a lot of support in this one! How to describe the work offered here by Bob Hoskins? Sweet natured, wholly admirable, eminently watchable; I loved Hoskins in this movie, period. Regarding Helen Mirren: if anyone out there who watches good movies needs me to tell them that Helen Mirren is a brilliant actor, just rent this flick and watch her work. (Her scenes with Bob Hoskins represent the high point in a movie full of high points.)

As even-tempered mortician Vic, Tom Courtenay brings a stately presence and touching sadness to his role, while David Hemmings plays the abrasive-yet-devoted Lenny with equal parts humor, irritability, and warmth. Rounding out the melancholy road-trip is Ray Winstone (last seen in Sexy Beast), who effortlessly holds his own among the veteran crew. Look, even if the film was a dull, predictable, and/or sappy flick, itíd still be worth seeing just for this ensemble. Enough gushing; letís sum up...

Last Orders is a charming and laid-back drama (one with humor, though!) about lifelong friendships and how difficult it can be to sever those ties. Old people will love this movie, and I mean that in the nicest possible way: Last Orders will almost certainly touch the heart of anyone old enough to have earned a 50-year friendship with someone. If you've ever looked back over a lifetime of memories before saying goodbye to a fallen comrade, trust me when I tell you that this flick will jam that lump in your throat. If the movie gets the tiniest bit weepy and sad in a few uncomfortable spots, well that's OK. Real life does that too sometimes.

DVD extras include some theatrical trailers and a full-length audio commentary with director Fred Schepisi. The track is rather is a rather dry affair, which explains why I fell fast asleep ten minutes into it. That, and I was a little emotionally spent from the movie, but donít tell anyone I said that.

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