"Last Orders" does its audience an enormous favor. Before the first frame is projected, Jack has died, the film has already cut through all of the tears and found itself straight where any shameless tear-jerker is terrified to go. Unlike a normal, seemingly machine-processed weepie, "Last Orders" is not satisfied with forming cookie-cutter characters and killing them off to get the audience to have a good bawl. Instead, it would rather forget all of the manipulative nonsense and remember its characters in good humor. That is not only a much more satisfying approach, but by the end, you believe in it so much that you would like to call up this ensemble and order everyone a round of beer.
The story focuses around revisiting the histories and examining the friendships of four long-time buddies: Jack (Michael Caine), Vic (Tom Courtenay), Lenny (David Hemmings) and Ray (Bob Hoskins). As mentioned before, Jack is dead, and the three remaining friends take a trip down memory lane en route to scatter Jacks ashes.
As the four friends in "Last Orders" go to many places where they have had experiences with Jack, we are shown flashbacks as to goings-on from years ago. These flashbacks are well edited into the film, not confusing the viewer but enticing them; just as we begin to wonder about a certain event in the past, our curiosity is satisfied.
"Last Orders" is not merely about mourning Jack's death. All of the mourning is finished with before the film starts. By the time Fred Schepisi has got his hands on the story, Jack's ashes are not treated like ashes. Instead, his remains carry a remarkable presence in the film. The three remaining friends treat the ashes as if Jack is still there; like hes still just one of the guys.
The performances are uniformly superb from an ensemble cast that can do no wrong. Michael Caine's objective as Jack is not to win the audience over (for Jack is no saint), but to have them gain some sort of understanding of the character. His bitter-sweet performance does no small part in achieving that goal. Ray Winstone does fine work with his character, Jack's son, Vince. Vince is an interesting switch on the norm, for in film it is usually the older characters who are out of touch; now it is the younger who is more in the dark; who just wants to be one of the guys. Helen Mirren shares a unique chemistry with both Jack and lover Ray, she gives the film its binding force; she is the staple to this incredible cast. The rest of the cast, the three friends and those who portray their younger selves, are excellent as well.
"Last Orders" is a journey not only to remember Jack, but also one of coping. Coping with each other, coping with the past, and coping with the inevitable; with death. Jack is gone, and by the end of the film, when everyone has said their final goodbyes, you know that the characters have all finally matured to a point that they have never reached in their whole lives; where they can finally look back on their lives objectively and declare them fruitful ones. At this point, the film did not have me reaching for my hankie, but instead a deeper chord was struck. "Last Orders" is a celebration of life that also makes one feel comfortable about death. That is an extraordinary feat for any film to achieve.