Last Orders is based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Graham Swit and written for film by director/producer Fred Schepisi. It is a very introspective look at life, particularly of the major characters, and is both lifting and depressing at the same time.
It tells the story of a group of friends who are about to carry out the ‘last orders’ of their recently departed mate, Jack Dodd (Michael Caine). There is Ray (Bob Hoskins), who is very good with money (or at least the winning of it), Lenny (David Hemmings), who is a rough and gruff character, and Vic (Tom Courtenay), who is the referee and peacemaker for the group. The other major characters are Jack’s wife, Amy (Helen Mirren), his son Vince (Ray Winstone) and their daughter, June (Laura Morelli).
Jack’s last orders are a request that his ashes be spread in Margate, a seaside town that has always been special to him. The mates, with Vince, are to carry out the orders, as Amy can’t bring herself to the task, for private and complicated reasons.
As the foursome make their trip, each goes through several emotional phases, and there are laughs, anger, tears and plenty of reflection. Elsewhere, Amy makes her weekly trip to see their daughter, June, who is in care and always has been, and a daughter that has never been accepted by her father, Jack. This lack of acceptance is the one blight on an otherwise happy marriage.
The film makes constant time-leaps as the characters thoughts and conversations wend their way through the movie. We learn a great deal about the characters of the main players, and some very important questions get answers, while others are left for us to draw our own conclusions. These leaps are not difficult to follow providing you become familiar with the characters quickly. This is important, as there is much to learn in the flashbacks.
The first-rate cast are faultless. The direction is excellent, and all on a very tight budget. The story will appeal to anyone who values family and friends, and will leave you with mixed feelings. There is a lot of happiness in these peoples' lives, but there is also a lot of darkness just below the surface. The over-riding feelings of love, friendship, and camaraderie are ultimately the winner, but there is a great deal of tension and friction to be dealt with first.
The aspect ratio is a 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 and it's virtually faultless. There is a very high level of sharpness, despite some minimal grain in a few scenes. Colours are natural and solid, while black levels are also great and there are no problems with shadow detail.
There is some mild and very infrequent shimmer (bar one shocker on a camper van roof) that should not distract from the film. There is no evidence of edge enhancement and virtually no marks or flecks. There is not even a layer change to disrupt the film.
There is just one English audio option, that being Dolby Digital 5.1. Being a character film and relying heavily on dialogue and visuals, the audio is somewhat subdued, but well suited to the film. Most of the dialogue comes from the centre speaker, and only the accents make it a little hard to hear at times. There are no problems with volume or synchronisation.
The rear speakers and subwoofer are used aggressively, though briefly, in a few wartime flashbacks and for some ambience during the outdoor scenes, but in general, this is a very front heavy audio. The sound range is good with great fidelity and should please even the fussiest of viewers.
The other audio track is German Dolby Digital 5.1 and it's very reflective of the English track.