Friday, January 15, 2010

Produced and Abandoned: Last Orders

From time to time, I will pull down a DVD from my shelf, watch it again and see if it still deserves a place in my permanent collection. I'm starting, ironically, with a DVD that I've owned for two years or more, but have actually never seen, so I have no idea if I even like it. Picked up for next to nothing on the recommendation of my Critics At Large cohort, Kevin Courrier, I just never got around to watching it. So, it is with Last Orders that I begin. Short answer to the most obvious question is yes, it does deserve a place in my permanent collection. You should be able to find it at better DVD rental shops... run don't walk.

Last Orders is a memory piece. Set in England in 1989, it tells the story of a group of very old friends who go on a journey to fulfill their recently deceased friend's last wish: scatter his ashes into the ocean from a pier in Margate on Britain's east coast. The story is told mostly using that old cliche, the flashback, and yet, in Australian Fred Schepisi's (The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, Iceman) hands they are fresh, revealing and ultimately very moving. Characters will be talking in one time-line and recall something that one of them said many years before. The line will be started in the present and then finished in a flashback. Schepisi sometimes also uses flashbacks within flashbacks, an often tricky proposition if not handled properly, to help us understand the truth of these characters' lives.

The cast is Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Tom Courtney, David Hemmings, Ray Winstone (as Caine's son) and Helen Mirren (as Caine's wife) playing the older characters. JJ Feild, Anatol Yusef, Cameron Fitch, Nolan Hemmings (David's son), Stephen McCole and Kelly Reilly (recently seen as Dr. Watson's fiance in Sherlock Holmes) play the characters, respectively, in flashback. Normally, I wouldn't go into such detail about the cast, but they are all so universally superb, young and old, that they deserve their time in the sun, especially the younger cast members. JJ Feild, for example, is the spitting image of a young Caine, but he doesn't do an imitation, his understanding of Caine's character, Jack, is soul deep. Reilly as the young Amy (Helen Mirren) doesn't really look like Mirren, but her body language and easy smile are reflected in Mirren's sad, world-weary older version.

The film beautifully examines the choices the characters made throughout their lives without comment or condemnation. Some made wise decisions, some made bad ones, but in the end, the characters are so clearly human we understand their pain, little victories, regrets and deep feelings. The film also elegantly examines the approaching final years of all these characters. And it wasn't just the characters who were facing their mortality. Knowing that David Hemmings died about two years after this picture came out adds a resonance to this superb film.

Like a fine old wine, Last Orders is a film that deserves to be savoured. It was a film that was abandoned upon release and ended up finding some life on DVD. Forgive my vagueness about the developments within the film, but some of them are so special that it's only fair that I let you experience them for yourselves. Enjoy.

--David Churchill is a film critic and author. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his first novel, The Empire of Death.

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