There’s an awkward rapport between Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor who play half-brothers in the new dramedy from writer-director Rodrigo Garcia (“Four Good Days”). The two actors may seem mismatched as siblings but in the context of the story, they are well-suited for the roles. The diverse cast which includes Spanish actor Maribel Verdú (Y tu mamá también”), English actor Sophie Okonedo (“Death on the Nile”), and the wonderful Vondie Curtis Hall, make this a satisfying watch even when the story just skims the surface of our protagonists’ traumatic past rather than delving deeper into the relationship with their father.
The film opens as Raymond (McGregor) shows up in the middle of the night at the rural log cabin home of his half-brother Ray (Hawke). The two haven’t seen each other in five years. “Our father is dead” utters Raymond, to which Ray responds, “By his own hand?” The remark throws off Raymond whose intermittent bogus smiles indicate he’s nervous talking about the old man who we find out over the course of the film was a horrible father. Ray, unshaken by the news explains he expected their father Harris (Tom Bower) to kill himself because he was “Such a bitter son of a b—ch.”
Life hasn’t been good for either half-brother for a very long time, since childhood we’re led to believe. Their father’s dying wish was for his sons to attend his funeral. While Ray could care less, Raymond begs his sibling to go, stating, he lost his license after getting a DUI and can’t get caught driving. But it’s more than that, Raymond doesn’t want a ride, he wants validation, “I wanna be there” states Raymond, “I wanna know what it looks like to put him in the ground” he explains.
So the two embark on a road trip to attend the funeral hundreds of miles away which gives them an opportunity to catch up, but they basically just reminisce about how awful their father treated them. Occasionally Ray gets too personal, and Raymond flies off the handle, fighting as brothers often do. When they arrive at the funeral home to meet with the director (Todd Louiso) and their father’s lawyer (Oscar Nunez) they are told that Harris declared in his will that he wanted to be buried by his sons, literally, as in here’s the shovels now dig the grave.
The supporting cast includes Vondie Curtis-Hall as the smooth Rev. West who explains to the half-brothers, “Your father spoke about you men many times, always in glowing terms.” The revelation paints Harris in a positive light, way different from the monster we’ve heard about so far. More unexpected discoveries continue as a beautiful woman named Lucia (Verdú) explains she was Harris’s ex-lover, and her young son Simon (Maxim Swinton) is, you guessed it, Raymond and Ray’s half-brother. But wait, there are more siblings we haven’t met yet, as it turns out Harris was a very fruitful man.
For such heavy themes, “Raymond & Ray” is funnier than you might expect in an “Odd Couple” sort of way. Hawke’s impassive Ray and McGregor’s high-strung Raymond make for some funny moments. There are times when McGregor’s reactions seem forced and overdramatic.
The film is elevated by British actor Sophie Okonedo who shows up at the funeral, not as another ex-lover but as a nurse who treated Harris. She reveals that in the end music helped Harris get through the pain. This upsets Ray, a jazz musician, because Harris never supported his musical career, in fact taking away his trumpet and pawning it. It’s another revelation that confirms the two half-brothers never really knew their father.
Hawke and McGregor lead the exceptional cast with solid performances. The problem lies with García’s story which doesn’t utilize the actors to their full capacity. The stories of Harris’s abuse are just that, stories. Not that I’m a fan of flashbacks, but in this case, they may have helped create empathy for the characters. Raymond’s separation from his wife is a doozy, but it’s never explored and his son, all we know is that he’s in the Army, is only mentioned once. The same goes for Ray who we find out was a former heroin addict. Surprising, because he seems 100% recovered with no signs of his past abuse. We also learn that Ray was fired from his job after assaulting an employee who wouldn’t stop using the N-word. Did this have something to do with Ray’s late wife who was black?
“Raymond & Ray” coasts along with bouts of comedy, and an occasional traumatic tremor, but no real earthquake-shaking moments. With so many deep revelations it could have been an emotional rollercoaster ride showcasing Hawke and McGregor’s talents. As is, the film falls into the “light” comedy and drama category making it a satisfying watch that doesn’t require much reflection. It’s the kind of movie that if discovered while channel surfacing you can jump into mid-film without feeling you’ve missed something.
Now streaming on Apple TV+