Review: 'Ray Donovan: The Movie' sneaks up and floors you

"Ray Donovan: The Movie" is authentically true to its damaged soul.

January 21, 2022, 4:11 AM
PHOTO: Liev Schreiber as Ray in "Ray Donovan: The Movie."
Liev Schreiber as Ray in "Ray Donovan: The Movie."
Cara Howe/Showtime

If you shared my frustration when Showtime hung us out to dry in January 2020 by abruptly cancelling the "Ray Donovan" crime series after seven seasons, then I have good news. In "Ray Donovan: The Movie," the streamer gives Liev Schreiber’s Ray—a hardcase-for-hire who can fix anything but the nightmare of his past— the send-off he and we deserve.

Sure, fans would have been better served by a complete eighth season instead of a patchy, cobbled together two-hour movie. But we’ll take closure where we can get it. Schreiber and Jon Voight as his smiling monster of a dad, Mickey, racked up deserved Emmy nominations for their full-throttle acting. And for one last go-round, they’re as brilliantly bruising as ever.

PHOTO: Jon Voight as Mickey Donovan and Liev Schreiber as Ray in "Ray Donovan: The Movie."
Jon Voight as Mickey Donovan and Liev Schreiber as Ray in "Ray Donovan: The Movie."
Cara Howe/Showtime

Co-written by Schreiber and showrunner David Hollander, "Ray Donovan: The Movie" returns to the drama's recurring themes about love, loss, betrayal and violent revenge and ties them all together in ways that don't cheat on the show's core identity as the tragedy of a broken family.

The movie picks up where the seventh season left off with Smitty (Graham Rogers), the husband of Ray's daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey), dead after another screwup from ex-con Mickey, this one involving stolen bonds belonging to a vindictive crime lord.

After a drunken wake for Smitty, attended by Ray and his dysfunctional brothers—Terry (Eddie Marsan), Bunchy (Dash Mihok), and Daryll (Pooch Hall)— Bridget laces into them: "Why is it so easy for you to forget?" But Ray, as series loyalists know, never forgets.

Before heading off to Boston to find Mickey and retrieve the bonds, the final episode skips ahead to show Ray on the phone with his shrink (Alan Alda) and confessing, "I killed my father." It's never as simple as that. Not on "Ray Donovan."

PHOTO: Liev Schreiber as Ray in "Ray Donovan: The Movie."
Liev Schreiber as Ray in "Ray Donovan: The Movie."
Cara Howe/Showtime

And that’s what makes the series and this final chapter so compelling. Shot in a classic film-noir style of contrasting light and shadow -- none of the bright lighting that reveals a cheapie TV production -- "Ray Donovan: The Movie" is authentically true to its damaged soul.

Flashbacks can be a trite shortcut, but here they cut deep as we meet a younger Mickey (a swaggering, sensational Bill Heck) and a teen Ray (Chis Gray) sketching in the origin story that would come to define their tortured relationship. As a child, Ray could jump into a pool with full confidence that his father would catch him. As a traumatized adult, Ray is on his own.

And yet you watch Schreiber and Voight dig into this tale of a son trying to cope with the sins of his father and you feel for both of them. There's Ray, abused by the church and the father he once trusted and Mickey, a walking contradiction of affection and shocking cruelty.

In the end, "Ray Donovan" is a love story between a father and son who keep trying to kill each other. "Fish gotta swim," says Ray with a resigned laugh of inevitability that pushes Mickey into one of his patented song-and-dance routines: "Fish gotta swim/Birds gotta fly/I gotta love one man till I die/Can't help lovin' that man of mine."

And Ray and Mickey can't help it as they resume their twisted duet of lethal co-dependency. It's brutality and black humor served straight up, no chaser. Just like the series that spawned it, "Ray Donovan: The Movie" sneaks up and floors you. Forget it? Not a chance.

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