Directed by: Fred Schepisi
Written by:Fred Schepisi
Starring: Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings, Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Ray Winstone
Released: July 11, 2002
Grade: A

I fell in love with this film after just 10 minutes and my feelings never changed.  Made with complete brilliance by Australian director Fred Schepisi (Six Degrees Of Separation), this unheralded English flick will leave an emotional mark on the toughest of hearts.  Producer Elizabeth Robinson says it best when describing it as a film “about a very particular place, but a universal experience”.  That experience is death.

This is a story about friendship.  Four guys who have grown up together, done it all and are now in the final years of their lives.  All from a quiet English town, they’ve been married (some happily and some not), fought in wars and slaved away to make a living.  But through thick and thin, they’ve always been there for each other and always had time to share a pint after work at the local pub.

Time finally catches up with one of them and Jack (Caine) learns he hasn’t long and soon passes away.  As his last orders, he’s asked for his ashes to be spread from the pier of a seaside town where he spent his honeymoon with wife Amy (Mirren) almost 50 years ago.  So Lucky (Hoskins), Lenny (Hemmings) and Vic (Courtenay) along with Jack’s son, Vince (Winstone) take an afternoon off and head to Margate to fulfil Jack’s final wish.

Along the way, each reflects back on precious memories and defining moments from their time with Jack.  Like the loss of any loved one, the reflection is mixed with feelings of the joy that Jack provided and the sadness that his warm personality will never again be felt.  The film is based on the lengthy Booker Prize winning novel by Graham Swift and yet Schepisi beautifully compresses 40 years worth of memories into a two hour film.

The film really is an amazing achievement.  Just look at the performances - all flawless.  It’s a who’s who of British actors.  Michael Caine, Tom Courtney, David Hemmings, Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren have all been appearing in cinema since the 1960s and they’ve mastered the craft.  Like their characters, they’re all in the twilight of their careers and are making sure their final impressions count.  They interact perfectly on screen with their seemingly casual improvised style.  It’s like you’re just watching a bunch of people talk in real life - there’s no Hollywood foreplay or cheesy dialogue.

The journey never tires.  The finale is perfect and doesn’t drag out nor milk our sentiments.  Tears will be shed but they’ll have been building up since the opening minutes.  There’s a subtle film score from Aussie Paul Grabowsky (Siam Sunset) and the sleepy English setting is immaculately captured by cinematographer Brian Tufano (Billy Elliot).

In recent years, there’s been a trend of British films succumbing to America’s commercial stylings.  In the last seven days, we’ve seen two vastly different examples of English filmmakers returning to what they do best - telling a great story.  Both Bend It Like Beckham and Last Orders are reasons why cinemagoers should ignore the marketing blitz surrounding blockbusters like Men In Black 2 and Scooby-Doo.  Great films are out there if you’re willing to open your eyes.