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Jack Dodd was a London butcher who enjoyed a pint with his mates for over 50 years. When he died, he died as he lived, with a smile on his face watching a horse race on which he had bet, with borrowed money. But before he died he had a final request, 'Last Orders', that his ashes be scattered in the sea at Margate. The movie follows his mates, Ray, Lenny and Vic and his son Vince as they journey to the sea with the ashes. Along the way, the threads of their lives, their loves and their disappointments are woven together in their memories of Jack and his wife Amy Written by
It would be hard to imagine a finer troupe of actors than those assembled for the very believable "Last Orders." An ensemble that meshes so well that I was drawn into the screen barely conscious of their real identities and filmography, the story of the long ride of a man's cremated ashes to his selected disposal site, Margate (of all places - garish, timeworn, solidly tired) is gripping.
Through flashbacks to events both recent and as far back as combat in the North African desert in World War II the story of three close friends, the wife of one and their son (and peripherally but not insignificantly their catastrophically mentally retarded daughter) reflects the daily small joys and not great setbacks of very average English people. All the characters here could well be neighbors of the folks in "The Full Monty," people whose days are locally if unspectacularly productive and whose pleasures center in daily convivial meetings at the local pub.
Jack (Michael Caine) faces death more bravely and honestly than he ever did his total rejection of his and his wife's (Helen Mirren) daughter. His disappointment at his son's refusal to join him in the butcher business has been the lot of many. An American version of this tragic rejection would have the son spurn the family business for acting or law or medicine or the Presidency. Jack's son is quite happy to sell cars. A nice touch of English class reality.
Jack's ashes make a number of detours enroute to Margate while his widow pursues her own very necessary and moving journey to personal closure and the prospect of future happiness. At each stop the relations between the four men in the borrowed Mercedes become more interwoven, detailed and - ultimately - important for each as their mission nears accomplishment.
The direction is superb as is the muted, sometimes hazy cinematography. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with even the best cast portraying non-Oxbridge types, some speech is indecipherable. Ray Winstone is the chief malefactor in the mumbles competition but his acting is convincing - a fine actor from whom much can be expected. An elderly woman leaving the theater near me remarked, "This wasn't about a Gosford Park - the film needed subtitles." Yes, we have our class consciousness on the Upper West Side too.
This is a very special film that deserves the widest distribution. It won't get it though, not here. If you can't see it in a theater, rent it when it becomes available.
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