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Read past reviews by the Film Gang

Last Orders
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 to Margate.
 
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 collective laurels
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