The Ethan Hawke experience is unlike any other. The commanding actor (and sometimes successful director) has such a hold on his own craft that it feels insulting not to give every performance of his the benefit of the doubt, even if they’re lesser works dumped onto lesser streaming services, as is the case with his newest film co-lead by Ewan McGregor which is fittingly titled ‘Raymond & Ray’.
When half-brothers Raymond and Ray (I’m still struggling to attach a character’s name to the actor that embodies them) are tasked with digging their late father’s grave and tending to his funeral arrangements, they begin to peel back the layers of a man they thought they knew and tried to forget.
On its surface, there is quite a bit of appeal for a film tackling this simple narrative idea. Ethan Hawke is an incredibly detailed actor that could handle a role like this without any troubles considering his stellar works in softer narratives before. I went in expecting ‘The Before Trilogy’ Ethan Hawke but left feeling like he brought back many of the mannerisms and touches he exhibited in Richard Linklater’s lesser known ‘Tape’ from the early 00s. It’s a style of his I prefer to the mysterious or violence-driven characters he’s played in recent memory. Unfortunately for ‘Raymond & Ray’, many if the film’s highlighting moments begin and end with Hawke as a performer.
While I’ve never really understood the Ewan McGregor hype, he hasn’t been the sore spot in a film that dramatically brings down its weight and merit, and while that isn’t the case necessarily with ‘Raymond & Ray’ due to its spotty and scattered narrative, McGregor still feels out of his element and cartoonish in a rather grounded story. It also doesn’t help that his character’s backstory and resolution do not fit the film’s tone either with their crass and childish handling.
‘Raymond & Ray’ doesn’t quite stand out from its contemporaries
The film works in a field boiling over with subject matter about grief and time lost with a relative or friend belabored with instability, but it never works outside of that motive. There’s nothing on the bone with ‘Raymond & Ray’ and it leaves your mind the moment the credits roll. The two title characters meet their father’s other acquaintances along the way, but none of them contribute to the story in any fashion besides his former lover Lucia, but even her characterization is overshadowed by a lack of intrigue and a son that pulls a viewer out of the film every time he is on screen.
Much of this film doesn’t work to say the least. It’s a movie that relies so heavily on the charisma of its two leads, but only one truly delivers. There are a few glimpses of hope throughout for a redeeming scene or interaction. I actually felt many of the moments in regard to planning the father’s funeral arrangements were fascinating or insightful. While Ewan McGregor’s performance doesn’t fit the movie all that well, his relationship to Hawke still feels authentic and lifelike throughout the film’s first half.
While the film has aspects that work when isolated, they are mostly overshadowed by a handful of head-scratching plot points and developments. The characters are largely uninteresting or unnecessary, and the film’s conclusion is like fitting square pegs into round holes. It didn’t leave me absolutely cold and hating the time I gave to it, but it is generally unmoving and unremarkable in its execution.