Last Orders – rated – HOT! HOT! HOT!

I can't think of a single thing wrong with this film. It is an absolute textbook for actors, with a dream ensemble cast. Michael Caine (as Jack Dodds) and Helen Mirren (as Amy Dodds) have never been better.  There's something about the quality of Mirren's voice in this role which makes the character - she is just wonderful at showing she understands something, without saying anything. The subtlety of her performance is really something to behold. It is as if we see into her mind.

Which brings me to Fred Schepisi, the director & writer of the screenplay (adapted from Graham Swift's Booker Prize-winning novel). Schepisi has always been an underrated director, but he's a master storyteller (think of Six Degrees of Separation (1993), for example). Yet Schepisi hasn’t made a feature film since 1997 (why?).

In Last Orders, Schepisi has managed to take the novel, introduce us to 2 generations of characters and many different time frames, make a seamless screenplay, and then translate it all onto film (which is ravishingly shot in a bleached, washed-out mist by Brian Tufano). When the characters think of their past, it is not just 'now cut to flashback'. It is more as if their thoughts just materialise. The editing (by Kate Williams) is 'gentle,' if you can describe editing in such a way. Nothing jars.  Everything is done to unfold the tale Schepisi is telling. The pacing is leisurely, and there is a surprising amount of detail in the story, but every time you begin to think it is about time for something to 'happen' - it does.

The music, which is one of the first things you notice about the film, is written & performed by Australian Paul Grabowski. It is unusual, wistful, beautiful and almost existentialist in tone.  It's a really original score.

I loved Bob Hoskins’ performance, too. His smile is so wonderful. And I loved the humorous turn-of-phrase of his character, such as his description of their favourite pub: "It's the Coach & Horses, but it's never gone anywhere, 'as it?”

Also outstanding (and striking) was JJ Feild, playing the young Jack. Apart from looking & acting like Michael Caine, he's also a dead ringer for Cole Porter.  If they ever decide to remake Night and Day (1946, Michael Curtiz), he’s a shoe-in!

Although all the young actors are well matched to their older counterparts, the least successful match is the horsy-looking Kelly Reilly playing Helen Mirren as a girl. But that's just a quibble about her looks, not her abilities. Ray Winstone is terrific again in the role of Jack's son - he always plays the Cockney lad, and yet he always gives us something new to relish. Tom Courtenay underplays brilliantly, and David Hemmings is a revelation (and something of a shock!).  I didn’t notice a screen credit for the actress who plays June, the Dodd’s handicapped child, but she was played by Laura Morelli, who does not appear to have acted before.

At one point the film almost becomes a thriller about what Ray (Bob Hoskins) will do with some money Jack gives him. But, no, it is more about people - what makes them do what they do, and how you cannot know what moves them, what makes them who they are (or might be). Time and again we are shown that what appears to motivate someone might not be the whole story.

The story ends so satisfactorily, and yet it is not overly neat. A lot of Pints have been sunk. There are loose ends, there are lost dreams, but there's also fulfilment, and acceptance, even of fatal flaws.

This film embodies so much of what I look for in a film. Don't miss it.

© Michèle M Asprey 2002

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