Half brothers Raymond and Ray reunite when their estranged father dies – and discover that his final wish was for them to dig his grave. Together, they process who they’ve become as men, both because of their father and in spite of him.
Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke, polar opposites in every possible way, team up as estranged half-brothers who must deal with the death of their long-lost father hundreds of miles away.
A knock upon the dilapidated cabin door by Raymond (McGregor) and we immediately get a sense of their relationship as Ray (Hawke) opens the door with a pistol in his hand. Raymond breaks the news about dear old dad, and Ray sees no reason to attend a funeral other than his brother’s need to go and resolve burdensome issues. Rising to the occasion, the two take a road trip, one which becomes an emotional one as well as a physical one, to Virginia where they both confront their issues from the past.
Self discovery is the point of the story as they also discover who their father became in his later life. “Raymond & Ray” becomes a soulful journey as they deal with the demons of the past and began to not only understand who they became but how to heal. This journey, oftentimes an ironic one, gives both Ray and Raymond time to explore their father’s secretive life after he left the boys and their mothers. Each character they encounter, from the hospice nurse to his lover and more half-brothers, reveal that their father wasn’t the man they thought he was…he was more and he was better. This discovery leaves them both in a conundrum as to how to move forward and with these two men, polar opposites, they handle it differently.
Casting McGregor and Hawke as half-brothers is an odd choice, but it works perfectly. There’s a balance between them and as writer/director Rodrigo Garcia gently guides these two seasoned actors, the two become siblings who have been emotionally and physically hurt and find comfort in one another in unexpected ways. Movies like this open doors for skilled actors the likes fo Hawke and McGregor to continue to evolve and deliver meaningful and complex performances for which I am grateful to see. The story does take some circuitous routes which stalls the story midway through, but it’s not enough to derail the story entirely.
“Raymond & Ray” is a thoughtful story, carefully peeling back the layers of what it means to be a family and see a parent for who he became. Knowledge is power and allows change, but with a surprise ending, you’ll be thinking about the possible outcomes for days.
As written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, “Raymond & Ray” is a story about revelations, those we discover about others and those we realize about ourselves. This, of course, is one of the basic tenants of any drama. And while each story requires its share of surprises and switchbacks, Garcia leans on this narrative device so often, we begin to question the credulity of the entire story. We come to feel sorry for the titular brothers, what with all the shocking revelations they have to contend with in such a short time. Not only that, but a feeling of manipulation begins to set in that threatens to undercut the viewer’s engagement.
Still, solid work from Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke as distant half-brothers reunited by the death of their shared father buoys this effort, their sincere work giving us excuse enough to overlook the film’s unsatisfying third act.
Raymond (McGregor) and Ray (Hawke) think their father’s influence over them has ended now that he’s dead, but he continues to pull their strings from beyond the grave. In his will, he stipulates that he wants his two sons to dig his grave. This bit of news comes after the two have endured a road trip in which they have reluctantly rehashed old experiences in an effort to get to know each other once again.
Psychologically damaged and physically abused by their father, these two have taken decidedly different paths. Raymond is separated from his third wife, has a job that gives him little satisfaction and is estranged from his own son. Insecure and at loose ends, he goes out of his way to please all who cross his path, unaware that in doing so, he’s still trying to please his father. Ray, a recovering addict, goes where the wind takes him, not concerned with long-term relationships or employment. His cynical edge gives him the appearance of confidence though it’s nothing but a façade he uses to hide his pain.
As the pair encounter their father’s lawyer, pastor, ex-wife and nurse, it’s all they can do to keep their eyes from rolling whenever they’re told what a great, charming, intelligent man he was. All they know is the abusive parent they had to navigate during their childhood and teen years, an experience that has harmed them in ways they still don’t fully comprehend.
It’s no surprise that McGregor and Hawke are very good here, their chemistry having a lived-in familiarity that speaks to years of sibling intimacy. These seasoned vets each rise to the opportunity of working with an equally talented peer. There’s not a false moment between them, giving the film a solid foundation upon which to build. The fine work of Vondie Curtis-Hall as a liberal man-of-the-cloth, Maribel Verdu as their father’s last amour and Sophie Okonedo as his nurse only add to the genuine nature of the characters’ interactions.
As I said, Garcia’s script contains more than its fair share of surprises, Raymond and Ray’s father’s past containing quite a few secrets that, once them come to light, knock his son’s back on their heels again and again. Unfortunately, the “surprises” become so frequent they ultimately lack any power. Still, the themes of redemption and forgiveness remain strong despite this fault, primarily due to the two leads work. Thanks to McGregor and Hawke, we genuinely empathize with these two damaged men. The genuine characters they create have a familiarity about them we can’t help but identify with, especially those who can’t forgive themselves for things that aren’t their fault.