"Raymond & Ray" TIFF Review
You’d have to be a real son of a bitch to give your kids the same name. Such is the case for half-brothers Raymond (Ewan McGregor) and Ray (Ethan Hawke), who have had to endure their father’s physical and emotional cruelty long after they grew up and left him to rot away in the personal hell they think he belongs in. And now that he’s finally dead, they don’t know what to feel. Should they be sad, just like any normal son would for their father? But how can they after all they’ve been through? It’s a troubling question that the pair must navigate as they venture back to their home to bury the patriarch, which leads to some revelations about the past and the impending future.
Based on outward appearances, Raymond is the more responsible and well-adjusted one. He dresses appropriately and is clean-shaven, resembling someone who’s always trying to give off the impression that he’s made it. Ray, on the other hand, is more of the “go with the flow” type, always flirting around and keeping his shirts unbuttoned. He’s also rejected his jazz musician past and is a recovering addict, two things he doesn’t like to talk about. Raymond also has his personal demons, including two divorces (and a third impending one), and a rocky relationship with his son who’s off in the army. While neither of them is as bad as their forbearer, it seems the apples haven’t fallen too far from the tree.
As you could imagine, these two flawed characters will often be seen having conversations about their past and how it isn’t their fault they ended up this way. It’s all very tiring and drawn-out material, something that writer/director Rodrigo García is becoming accustomed to with the equally clichéd Four Good Days just this past year (whose only claim to fame was a tiringly predictable Best Original Song nomination for Diane Warren). Not much about it rings true, with most of the story beats being visible from a mile away. And if they are mildly surprising, the dramatic blocks haven’t been built up enough to make the toppling over that exciting.
That constant sense of “been there, done this” also extended towards the actors, who, try as they must, can’t find a way to make this bird sing. Ewan McGregor, reteaming with García for similar material after portraying a fatherly tortured version of Jesus Christ in 2015’s Last Days in the Desert, is the weaker of the central pair. There’s a sort of artifice to his performance, almost as if he hasn’t fully shed the chutzpah he needed to bring to the table for his recent work in Birds of Prey or in Ryan Murphy’s Halston series (which did earn him an Emmy award, so you can’t entirely blame him). Hawke, on the other hand, seems to be stuck in neutral, playing a similar archetype that he can do in his sleep at this point.
Fortunately, there is the presence of Maribel Verdú and Sophie Okonedo to lighten things up and make it somewhat interesting from time to time. Each gets to share some time with one of the brothers, with Okonedo and Hawke being the better pair as they offer some introspective scenes about grief and reckoning with the past.
Raymond & Ray is the type of movie that seems to evaporate from your brain the moment you step out of the theater. And while that’s a fine thing for mindless blockbusters, it’s not for movies like this that try to aim for something much weightier. And it’s doubly concerning when it wastes the talents of those involved, who easily could have been doing something more substantial.