What kind of father would give two sons the same name? It’s true that Raymond (Ewan McGregor) and Ray (Ethan Hawke) had different mothers, but still. Let’s just say that Benjamin Reed Harris III was an unusual dad. Over the course of “Raymond & Ray,” which is streaming on Apple TV+ and playing at the Dedham Community, we learn just how unusual. The movie’s unusual, too. It’s worth seeking out.
The unusualness extends to dad’s having made a dying request that Raymond and Ray attend his funeral, even though both had been estranged from him for years. Ray was really estranged. “You don’t have any good memories of him?” Raymond asks. “I have some,” Ray says. “I wish I didn’t.”
Raymond shows up at Ray’s door on a rainy night to deliver in person the news of death and request. Raymond finally persuades him to go, though it takes some doing. When they get ready to leave in the morning, Raymond notices his brother putting a gun in his bag. “Really, is that necessary?” he asks. “You never know,” Ray replies. No, you don’t; and if movies had epigraphs the way novels do, “You never know” would work very nicely here.
Back to the gun: Don’t worry, the Chekhov rule is observed, though not at all how you’d expect. That’s in keeping with the winningly off-kilter way that “Raymond & Ray” operates. It’s alternately funny and melancholy and always full of surprises. Again: “You never know.” Rodrigo Garcia, who wrote and directed, keeps taking left-hand turns from right-hand lanes, and vice versa. Collisions ensue. The collisions are usually social and emotional in nature, but not always.
Garcia is probably best known for “Albert Nobbs” (2011), the Glenn Close cross-dressing movie. That period piece is nothing like “Raymond & Ray.” This one has a tang and texture and rare sense of everyday epiphany. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you find out you’ve figured wrong. Again: “You never know.” In that respect, the viewer is very much in the same situation as the two title characters.
Hawke and McGregor are very good together. There’s a nice chemistry between them, and it’s all the nicer for being so uneasy. They share a bond. They know they share a bond. It’s just that they don’t necessarily like the bond that they share.
Hawke has the showier part. Ray used to be a jazz trumpeter, and we hear him play a little. Or see him do it: The actual playing is done by Jeff Beal, who wrote the film’s very good score. Ray’s the younger brother, and acts it, even if the hatchety handsomeness of Hawke’s face looks far more lived in than Raymond’s. Ray’s sour and acerbic, allowing Hawke to put the excellent growliness of his voice to good use. Eventually we find out why Ray has good cause to be the way he is. The look he gives Raymond when he hears his brother say “Forgiveness is good” is very funny — and telling.
Raymond is given to statements like that one. Another is “We come from chaos.” It’s clear he does not approve. McGregor speaks with a prissy American accent that in its own way is as expressive as Ray’s trumpet playing. “I like things the way I like them, steady,” he says. “Maybe that makes me boring.” No maybes about it, and he knows it. When Ray says with a shrug of acceptance “We’re a couple of grown-ass men whose lives didn’t pan out,” Raymond goes ballistic — “Don’t say that!” — and this from a man who’s about as ballistic as a Christmas sweater. He knows it’s true but refuses to admit it.
His sons aren’t the only interesting people associated with Benjamin Reed Harris III. Each of them is worthy of a film of his or her own, and “Raymond & Ray” has a supporting cast of the caliber of its stars.
When the brothers go to collect their father’s things they meet Lucia, his landlady. As they learn, she was some other things to him, too. Maribel Verdú, who may have the most enticing smile in movies, supplies the energy the brothers lack. At the funeral, they meet Kiera, who was one of his hospital nurses. She’s played by Sophie Okonedo, who is to eyebrow-raising and skepticism as Verdú is to smiles and enticement.
The most surprising encounter — remember: “You never know” — is with Rev. West, who officiates at both funeral and burial. Vondie Curtis-Hall, as the reverend, supplies even more energy than Verdú does. The brothers profess surprise at the presence of a Protestant minister, their father having dabbled in Buddhism, briefly converted to Judaism, and otherwise been thoroughly irreligious.
Rev. West’s response is as much punch line as explanation: “Harris was a restless seeker.” Clearly, he was that, and “Raymond & Ray” is a restless seeker of a movie. There are far too few of those, which should make us all the more grateful to have this one.
RAYMOND & RAY
Written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Starring Ethan Hawke, Ewan McGregor, Maribel Verdú, Sophie Okonedo, Vondie Curtis-Hall. At Dedham Community and streaming on Apple TV+. 106 minutes. R (language and some sexual content)
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.