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Last Orders

Starring Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings, Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren and Ray Winstone
Based on the novel by Graham Swift
Written and Directed by Fred Schepisi

IN SHORT: A fine one. Much better than the average arthouse flick. [Rated R for sexuality and some language. 109 minutes]

When all is said and done and the fires are out and your ashes are cool enough to fill a brown plastic urn, all you've really got left is your friends. All your friends have is their memories, which is where Last Orders begins and ends, with the focus on a quartet of London based working class men, whose friendship dates to the glory days of World War II. Last Orders is one of those particularly British movies -- meaning a film in which the accents are thick or thicker and the slang expressions come often enough that American ears are left in the dark -- that, by way of a well told story, manages to overcome all that stuff about accents and slang. Writer/director Fred Schepisi's film is paced at a speed that everyone in retirement mode can enjoy, meaning it is slow to those of us in middle age and deathly slow to any teen. With a cast of A-list Brit actors, it is worth searching out.

In the urn is Jack Dodds (Michael Caine), a second generation butcher whose daughter June (Laura Morelli) has been a resident of a home for the severely retarded for the last fifty years. His son, Vince (Ray Winstone) refused to continue the tradition of "and Son" and join the family business, instead opening a very successful car showroom just up the road. His wife, Amy (Helen Mirren), chooses to spend this particular Thursday as she has every Thursday for the last fifty years (excepting one six week period), visiting the severely retarded daughter that Jack has put out of his mind.

That leaves Jack's best friends to follow his "last orders," to dump his ashes off a pier in the seaside town or Margate. The journey that the quartet of men make will trigger all sorts of memories, the most painful and secretive of which erupt only when when any individual can find a bathroom to duck into. That's how men of that generation are, no weepy in public boys here.

Chauffeured by Vince, who has grabbed the only Mercedes off his lot for the journey, are Vic (Tom Courtenay) the even-tempered undertaker; Lenny (David Hemmings) a former boxer still looking for any excuse to fight and/or to lift a pint; and "Lucky" Ray (Bob Hoskins) the war buddy who saved Jack's life in battle. Ray is the closest of the three to Jack and Amy. He is also the only member of the surviving trio to have lost both his daughter (who moved Down Under with a rock musician) and wife (who plain ol' moved out) and faces the prospect of Death terrifyingly alone. In his pocket is more than £30,000 (probably around $50K), from a bet wagered for Jack from the man's deathbed. Jack wanted to provide for his wife, and cover debts that his business had run up (a huge loan from the local loanshark) but no one knows anything about the bet, other than "Lucky" and the deceased.

A stake that size could easily finance a relocation Down Under and no one would be the wiser, eh? Put this kind of dilemma in the acting pocket of someone like Bob Hoskins and you've justified the cost of the ticket.

All the memories are spoken over a pint or, more frequently, come in flashback form. Sometimes one flashback will trigger another and, once in a while, those flashbacks will leave you in the dark as to what they mean. As with the warning about accent and slang, none of these cultural conflicts will get in the way of the true story being told.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Last Orders, he would have paid . . .


dateflick level for those old enough to put that list of actors into their memory bank and still hear the ding-ding-ding of the "see it circuits."

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