When one of a circle of buddies dies, the remaining friends carry out one of his "last orders": to take his ashes and scatter them off the pier at the seaside town of Margate. As the group makes the trip, they take stock of their friend's death. But rather than provide nostalgic relief, or sentimental remembrances, the journey uncovers unresolved wounds, lost opportunities, and once buried secrets.
Although Swift's novel sets forth a neatly-tied pattern that gradually unveils the psyche of the characters, Schepisi favors more spontaneity. Along with the dramatic flashbacks (using younger actors) for a view into their younger days, Schepisi sometimes cuts forwards and back in the middle of a sentence, or a thought.
The cast is also near perfect. Michael Caine, as Jack, is a simple man for whom perspective comes late. Bob Hoskins is extraordinary as Jack's best friend, Ray, whose compassion grows from awkward circumstances. David Hemmings has never been a stronger presence on the screen--even if his character is the least developed. But it's Helen Mirren who gives her richest, most poignant performance yet as Jack's wife, Amy. While the men make their journey to bury their friend, Amy makes a different journey to resolve a whole other kind of death.
"Last Orders" is a subtly powerful drama that finally tells us that not only is death not the end, sometimes it makes for new beginnings. Starring Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Helen Mirren. Directed and written by Fred Schepisi. Produced by Fred Schepisi and Elisabeth Robinson. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Rated R for sexuality and some language. Running time: 125 min