After becoming a popular flagship series for Showtime and running seven seasons from 2013-2020, Ray Donovan was unceremoniously cancelled. The move left the creators, cast, and viewers scratching their heads; the show had lost some audience share over the years, but its loyal fanbase ensured it was nowhere near the bottom of the ratings. After backlash over the cancellation (and a revealing interview from the series’ showrunner David Hollander), Showtime did ultimately give the series a chance to return for a final movie to wrap up what had previously been a cliffhanger finale.
As such, Ray Donovan: The Movie is less of a movie really and more of an extended final episode. It also jumps in immediately, providing a few answers to what happened during and after the events of the Season 7 finale in the form of flashbacks Ray (Liev Schreiber) has while burying yet another body. But from there, the movie (co-written by David Hollander and Liev Schreiber, and directed by Hollander) settles into focusing on the very best of what Ray Donovan has to offer, and in doing so, ultimately leads to the emotionally sincere conclusion it was robbed of before.
In a framing conversation with his therapist (Alan Alda) over the phone, Ray details what has been happening in his life for the last 48 hours or so while also flashing back to his youth. For fans of the series, the movie fills in a lot of gaps regarding Young Ray in Boston, the origin of Mickey’s (Jon Voight) incarceration, and their initial connection to Ezra and Sean Walker that led Ray to Los Angeles. Other familiar faces, or at least a younger version of them, appear in these scenes as well, and it’s all emotionally stirring—but that’s no surprise. Ray Donovan has always shined brightest when focused on the family rather than the shallow, often bizarre fixer plots, but in the movie we see how those two elements melded together early on for Ray in a way that provides essential context for the rest of the series.
While the movie does give a few tender moments to Bunchy (Dash Mihok), Terry (Eddie Marsan), and Daryll (Pooch Hall)—including its best scene, where all of the brothers drink and impersonate their dad while laughing about the old days—it mostly lasers in on the relationship between Ray and Mick. In the present day, Ray is once again hunting his father down, and once again Mickey finds ways to surprise him. Even in its short runtime (versus a final season to unpack it all), the movie does an admirable job of providing natural conclusions to the cycle of abuse, trauma, and violence that have plagued the Donovans for generations.
Perhaps that shortened runtime is really a blessing, because like any episode of Ray Donovan itself, the movie can still drag at times when it settles into dimly-lit rooms with dimly-personable people. And there are still the cluttered remnants of yet another overly complicated plot about a money heist involving all of the lowlifes trying to score some of it for themselves. It’s true to the spirit of the series, sure, but Ray Donovan: The Movie again works best when it’s about the Donovans, and even more specifically about Mickey and Ray.
To that end, the movie does an excellent job of casting young versions of its leads. From Chris Gray’s level-headed and watchful Ray to Bill Heck’s charismatic Mickey, to Chris Petrovski’s arrogant Sean and Austin Hébert’s rough Jim Sullivan, Ray Donovan builds a kind of Many Saints of Newark origin mythology for itself that dovetails nicely with present-day events, which yet again put Mickey and Ray at odds in the name of protecting the family.
And yet, as Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) says to her father, “it had to end.” Now it has, better than it did before, and with a conclusion that should satisfy long-time viewers. But even if you gave up on Ray Donovan years ago and are jarred by the opening montage of seemingly random encounters, consider seeing it through. There are some nice references and callbacks, but where the movie truly succeeds is in getting to the emotional core of the series that—like Ray’s memories of the past—reveals its most important and formative truths.
Ray Donovan: The Movie premieres Friday, January 14th on Showtime.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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