The funeral of a movie character we never meet makes a sturdy mechanism for examining the movie’s other characters, their quirks and hang-ups and buried trauma. Consider The Big Chill for a classic example. When it’s a family patriarch, it’s even more fertile ground, and when the patriarch has been father to multiple half-siblings, some of whom have never met, it just ups the thematic juiciness. Still, Rodrigo Garcia’s new film Raymond & Ray would be pretty well-worn territory if not for the interesting narrative device that sets it apart.


See, it seems that Benjamin Harris (Tom Bower, seen primarily as a corpse) had some peculiar requests upon leaving this world after a losing fight with cancer. One is that he wanted to be buried in a simple pine box. Another is that he wanted to be buried naked. A third is that he wanted to be buried face down. But the really onerous one – the one that particularly irks his oldest sons, half-brothers Raymond (Ewan McGregor) and Ray (Ethan Hawke) – is that he wants his own sons to bury him. And by that he means he wants them to dig the hole, using nothing but shovels and elbow grease, then fill it back in after he’s been lowered into the ground.

Raymond and Ray don’t know this yet when they trek across a couple American states to the funeral home where their father is being embalmed. Ray doesn’t want to go at all, as he has nothing but loathing for his father. But Raymond – who, it will be revealed, has even greater reasons to despise his old man – shows up on his doorstep and insists they participate in this final ritual, in the hopes of closing some old wounds. Ray reluctantly throws on a shirt, puts away the gun he grabbed when Raymond surprised him with a knock on the door in the middle of the night, packs up his trumpet, and joins Raymond on the trip.

They discover their father – whom they know as “Harris” – had been living with a woman named Lucia (Maribel Verdu), initially thinking Harris only rented a room in her house. They soon realise the actual nature of the relationship, and that the ten-year-old boy running around her house may be another half-brother. He’s not the last unknown family relation they will meet over the course of a couple difficult days, featuring more than one middle finger pointed in the direction of the corpse by Ray. Raymond is trying to be the more responsible of the two, but as a twice-divorced and currently separated man, he may also be just waiting to explode.

Throughout his career Garcia has specialised in similar vignettes, taking a humanistic approach to damaged characters and in particular their family bonds. He’s the director of realistic dramas like Nine Lives and Mother and Child from earlier in his career, though he also worked with McGregor, playing Jesus, in 2015’s Last Days in the Desert, and with Glenn Close in the period piece Albert Nobbs. Raymond & Ray is a return to the thematic material with which he started, and it’s a welcome one – though no ill will is intended toward either of those latter films, which were well intentioned but ultimately short on staying power.


The graveside dynamics and resulting conversations are always interesting here, comprising the largest share of the running time. They also include a total outsider, the funeral director played by Todd Louiso, as well as acquaintances of Harris like his nurse (Sophie Okonedo) and his pastor (Vondie Curtis Hall). Since it takes many hours to dig a six-foot-deep grave, and a lesser but still significant number to fill it back in, the movie gets ample time to reveal its characters without resorting to simple exposition, and to add dimension to the ways Harris hurt his sons. At the same time, this is not a dour occasion, as most everyone present has a complicated relationship with the man, leaving few of them too broken up about it. Two other sons turn out to be acrobats, and can be seen navigating the tombstones while walking on their hands.

The biggest selling point for those not previously acquainted with Garcia’s work will undoubtedly be the two stars, Hawke and McGregor. They are presences that contrast effectively in the film, in ways that mirror the sorts of careers the actors have had. Hawke is a consummately verbal actor, probably both a cause and an effect of his collaborations with Richard Linklater, which tends to make him effusive in externalising his emotions. McGregor has no such affiliation and is naturally a more guarded performer. That means that while Hawke may be more watchable on a moment-to-moment basis, it’s McGregor who is giving the trickier performance, especially as the narrative progresses and his stoic facade starts to crumble.


Because it is small in scope, Raymond & Ray is the sort of film it would be easy to miss and you’d never be any worse for it. This is an increasingly likely outcome as the streamers continue to churn out original movies, this one coming from AppleTV+. However, it gathers together a group of committed filmmakers, both in front of and behind the camera, in exploring age-old conflicts between fathers and sons, and the desire to find ways to prevent these dynamics passing down through the generations. Any viewers who would benefit from that sort of project would be wise to add it to their list.


Raymond & Ray is currently streaming on AppleTV+.

7 / 10