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Ethan Hawke & Ewan McGregor Excel In Flawed Dramedy

Dec 31, 2022

Home Movie Reviews Raymond & Ray Review: Ethan Hawke & Ewan McGregor Excel In Flawed Dramedy

Anchored by two great lead performances, Raymond & Ray is at its best when exploring the odd dynamics between its complicated characters.

Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke in Raymond & Ray

Family dynamics don’t get more complicated than the ones at the center of Raymond & Ray. Better yet, one hopes they don’t get more complicated. The dark comedy from writer-director Rodrigo García leans into the messy and the absurd through a story of two half-brothers bonded by past trauma. While there are some threads that don’t quite pan out as much as one might expect, that seems to fit with the themes of loss and unresolved conflicts. Anchored by two great lead performances, Raymond & Ray is at its best when exploring the odd relationships between its complicated characters.
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Raymond (Ewan McGregor) and Ray (Ethan Hawke) are half-brothers with very little in common on the outside. Raymond, the more straight-laced of the two, makes the trek out to Ray’s rustic cabin one night to break some heavy news: Their father (Tom Bower) has died, and one of his final wishes is that they attend his funeral. Right from the start, it’s clear Raymond and Ray didn’t have the best relationship with their dad — and that’s an understatement. Though Ray initially resists the idea of going, he’s persuaded by Raymond, and the two set out to bury their father. Literally, it seems, as their dad (Harris, as the men refer to him) also requested that his sons dig his grave themselves.

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Maribel Verdú and Sophie Okonedo in Raymond & Ray

From the first conversation between the titular brothers, Raymond & Ray establishes the basic outlines of the characters and their difficult relationship with their father. García’s dialogue is far from subtle, and sometimes runs the risk of being too blunt. Though certain specifics regarding Raymond and Ray’s pasts are left uncovered, there’s enough hinted at for viewers to get the full picture. Harris was an abusive and womanizing father, and he’s left plenty of scars on his children. However, much to Ray and Raymond’s shock, they encounter multiple people who speak highly of the late man. From Harris’ lover/companion Lucia (Maribel Verdú) to his nurse Kiera (Sophie Okonedo), it seems that in his later years the man turned over a new leaf. Raymond & Ray wisely doesn’t seek to produce any easy answers about this memory of a man, instead letting its characters stay in that awkward place that often comes after a loss. Raymond and Ray are unable to reconcile the father they knew with the man people keep describing to them, and Garcia doesn’t attempt to fill in any holes.

Though the centerpiece of the film is essentially the graveside sequences, Raymond & Ray takes its time reaching that point. The slower pace early on lessens the impact of certain moments, and it almost feels like the film was adapted from a stage play. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does give the overall story a more lethargic vibe. When the men arrive at the graveyard and begin their task of digging Harris’ final resting place, Raymond & Ray takes on a more compelling edge. This is partially aided by the unique cast of characters that join them. In addition to Lucia and Kiera, there’s Vondie Curtis-Hall’s stylish pastor and Todd Louiso’s put-upon funeral home employee, plus some surprising additions. As Raymond and Ray painstakingly shovel six feet into the earth, new secrets are revealed, and complicated emotions surface. Garcia injects some darkly funny moments into the film, and some of the best come out in the cemetery. That’s also where McGregor and Hawke are allowed to really let loose.

Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke in Raymond & Ray

Of the two brothers, Hawke gets the most to play with as the rougher, haunted Ray. Some details of his past are revealed via McGregor’s Raymond, but Hawke does much to sell Ray’s inner ghosts with his own performance. Though he tries to seem unaffected by his father’s passing, later moments pick up on the devastation that lies beneath his skin, and Hawke sinks into those scenes with impressive skill. McGregor often matches Hawke’s commitment, but his character has a shakier storyline. Raymond is just as hurt as Ray, but the way he processes his emotions are a bit more predictable, which dulls its impact. Among the supporting cast, Verdú elicits laughs as the shockingly frank Lucia, and Okonedo forges a delightful rapport with Hawke that gives Raymond & Ray an extra jolt of intrigue. She proves to be one of the most compelling personalities among the ensemble.

Ultimately, Raymond & Ray ends on a bittersweet note tinged with hope for the future. Whether it’s a satisfying conclusion will likely depend on the individual viewer. However, it’s safe to say the journey beforehand is an entertaining, somewhat twisted ride. Raymond & Ray isn’t a movie with wholly likable characters or happy moments. It has some flaws, too, but between Hawke’s gripping performance and the film’s willingness to go to some awkward places, it proves to be a worthwhile adventure.

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Raymond & Ray premieres on Apple TV+ Friday, October 21. It is 106 minutes long and rated R for language and some sexual material.

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