Reviewed by Dennis Morton
What a pleasure it is to watch a good movie
with a smart friend and then spend a few hours talking about it. That pleasure
was mine, recently, when I watched "Last Orders" for the second time.
This is a quiet movie. Ostensibly, this
is the story of a short road trip from London to Margate. The travelers
are four men on a simple mission. They've been asked to scatter the ashes
of a man they knew well - a man named Jack. Jack was a friend to three
of them and a father to the fourth. I say 'ostensibly' because, as in most
good movies, there's more going on in "Last Orders" than at first appears.
With six of Britain's finest actors, a
skillfully edited series of flashbacks, and cinematography that ranges
from the almost romantic to the grittily realistic, director Fred Schepisi
weaves bits and pieces of each character's memory into a tapestry that
seems somehow familiar and therefore, oddly reassuring.
These partial portraits of the six main
characters add up to a picture of life as most of us know it - one full
of work, repetitions, small joys, major disappointments, compensations,
love and losses.
On the surface, the flashbacks and the
conversation between the men on the way to Margate recapitulate the life
of Jack, a man who dreamt of becoming a doctor, but who ended up, like
his father before him, wielding a cleaver instead of a scalpel. As a butcher,
Jack learned that if you're going to squeeze a profit from your daily toil,
it will be because you've learned to control the waste.
With an equal sense of economy, Fred Schepisi,
who also wrote the understated but eloquent script, manages to give us
two stories for the price of one. My friend and I agreed that the stealth
story, the narrative below the surface, is the story of Ray. Played by
Bob Hoskins, Ray figures into most of the episodes recalled along the way
Ray - Lucky Ray Jack calls him. And Jack's
wife calls him Little Ray of Sunshine, Little Ray of Hope. As the miles
add up and the years flash by, it becomes clear that while Jack may have
been the visible cynosure of the small group, it is Ray who always mends
the net that keeps the group together. Ray: nearly invisible, but easily
the most honest broker of the group's intimacy. In the end, my friend suggests
that "Last Orders" is really a love story, Ray's love story. I leave that
for you to discover, or to argue with.
There's not a narrative voice in the film
to sum up the story, or guide us through it. We have to pay close attention
to the dialogue. Occasionally, the cockney gets in our way, but most of
it comes through, more than enough to ring familiar bells and summon up
the thousands of small truths that add up to a life.
Any movie with Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins,
Helen Mirren, David Hemmings, Tom Courtney and Ray Winstone sharing the
bill would be interesting to see, but "Last Orders" isn't sitting on the
of these great actors. Beautifully filmed
and edited, with a spare but elegant script, and wonderfully acted, "Last
Orders" is a fine movie in its own right.
"Last Orders" is playing at the refurbished
and newly reopened Del Mar Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz. Don't miss it.
Copyright Dennis Morton 2002