Raymond & Ray is a touching tale about two brothers who are still overcoming their childhood traumas.
WRITTEN BY ANDREW KORPAN / OCTOBER 24, 2022
When the names Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor were seen together in a logline, paired with a road trip story where the two actors played half brothers that are on their way to their father’s funeral, my interest was piqued, to say the least. Add to the fact that Apple TV+ — home of last year’s stellar Best Picture Winner, CODA — was the streamer home to this film, I couldn’t wait to feast my eyes on this. And while I don’t know if Raymond & Ray always hits the mark, a stellar performance from Hawke and a good supporting cast make for a heartfelt film.
The film opens (and fittingly ends) with a rainy drive. The first sees Raymond (McGregor) driving through the woods to Ray's (Hawke) home in a desolate area of the woods. Raymond’s not paying a visit to shoot the shit, however. He’s on a mission to get his brother to attend their father’s funeral with him. This funeral is more than what meets the eye and they meet their father’s latest wife and child along the way.
Not everybody loves Raymond and Ray; especially their father. The brothers are mostly the juxtaposition of one another; Raymond is the straight-arrow everyday guy who works at a water facility in Cincinnati. Perhaps he’s the more pragmatic of the pair. Ray is the “bad boy” who had all of the “rizz,” as the kids say. The former is seeking catharsis by going to his father’s funeral. The latter, however, drags his feet and wants nothing to do with it before reluctantly agreeing to go.
The real beauty of Raymond & Ray is what is quietly said. Take the first scene where Raymond attempts to convince Ray to go to the funeral. You get a sense of who Raymond is from the way he dresses and speaks to his brother. Meanwhile, Raymond sees a woman leaving Ray’s house — I think you could imagine what she was there for — and this sets the stage for what to expect of the brothers’ personalities for the remainder of the film.
There’s also subtlety in the parallels throughout the film. The opening and closing shots are not the only parallels; if you pay attention to the tidbits the viewer gets about Harris (Tom Bower), their father, there’s a pretty clear endgame with Raymond’s character. Is it a bit cynical? Perhaps, but everyone has their own sense of emancipation from grief.
We all deal with trauma differently. It’s not that Raymond or Ray are lazy or unwilling to go to their father’s funeral without good reason. As you could likely guess, their father didn’t treat them very well growing up. As a result, you can either run from it as Ray does, or you can attempt to conquer it.
To be blunt, Hawke is a far better dramatic actor than McGregor. Not that the latter is incapable of a convincing dramatic performance — look at what he did in Doctor Sleep — but the former runs circles around the latter. Perhaps this is due to the writing — director Rodrigo Garcia also scribed the film — that makes McGregor occasionally stand out like a sore thumb as the naive one of the pair. Whatever the case, this performance is an unfortunate step down from McGregor’s performance in the middling Obi-Wan Kenobi series.
And I guess the fact that Hawke outshines the rest of the cast shouldn’t be seen as a surprise. Hawke’s truly one of the great actors working today and while his performance as Ray isn’t nearly as physical or flamboyant as his recent turn in Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone, the subtle notes of his performance in Raymond & Ray are equally as good. It’s ironic that in Raymond & Ray, Hawke’s character is facing a father very much like the one he played in Boyhood.
The surrounding ensemble is a pleasant surprise. Maribel Verdú plays Lucil, one of Harris’ wives and presumably the last given that she’s the mother of Harris’ young child Simon (Maxim Swinton). Verdú plays Lucil with a playful sexiness while also retaining her empathic nature. She’s oddly comforting to watch and ditto for Sophie Okonedo’s character, Sophie — one of Harris’ nurses.
One last standout is the score by Jeff Beal. The jazz notes play a larger part in the grand scope of the film, but on the surface, it’s heavily reminiscent of the film adaptation of Glengarry Glen Ross’ score. Beal’s previous jazz work results in a clear understanding of composing this style of music. My only question is whether or not he taught Hawke how to play the trumpet or if Hawke already knows how to play.
Funerals have such a finality to them. After all, you’re literally putting someone six feet underground. The burial scene in Raymond & Ray lasts a good half hour or so and while not as effective as say, The Godfather’s opening wedding scene, is still where the film is at its best.
Raymond & Ray is a touching tale about two brothers who are still overcoming their childhood traumas. It’d make for a good double-feature with Hit the Road; which is a far better film but is also about a family on a road trip that is dealing with some traumatic situations. But Raymond & Ray still works on its own merit and mostly thanks to its stars — especially Hawke. It’s not the most memorable film of the year, but I do think it has something to say about the relationships in our lives. Plus, the final little “twist,” if you can call it that, makes for a powerful ending that does land. I can’t say everyone will love Raymond & Ray — this is my last time making the joke, I swear — but I know that I did.