Co-written by series showrunner David Hollander and star Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan: the movie hints at what could have been an entire eighth season of the abruptly canceled Showtime show.
Photo: Cara Howe/SHOWTIME
When Showtime was unexpectedly canceled Ray Donovan after its explosive seventh season concluded in January 2020, fans were confused and upset. Not only did the abrupt ending come out of nowhere, but the final episode left a number of characters hanging in the wind, feeling nothing like a final word on the saga of Ray and his fractured family. The creative team was planning an eighth season when they heard the news, and showrunner David Hollander told Vulture, “There was no sense it was going to be a completion.”
Luckily for Hollander and the Emmy-nominated show’s very loyal fans, that completion comes to Showtime tonight in satisfaction. Ray Donovan: the movie, which weaves the beginnings of Ray and Mickey Donovan into the end of their violent saga. Co-written by Hollander and star Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan: the movie never feels like cheap fan service; it hints at what an entire eighth season could have been and provides just enough closure while avoiding easy conclusions for most of its characters. It’s visually ambitious in that the show was increasingly allowed to be in later seasons, demonstrating a true cinematic language in terms of craftsmanship. But what will really matter to fans is that the show was allowed to end on its own terms. This is the last job Ray deserves.
The seventh season of Ray Donovan ended with the sudden death of Smitty (Graham Rogers), the husband of Bridget Donovan (Kerris Dorsey), during a deal gone horribly wrong and orchestrated by the always terribly wrong Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight ), father Ray Donovan (Schreiber) repeatedly disavowed. The film’s action picks up as Donovan flees to Boston with the actions of Declan Sullivan and his grandson’s blood on his hands. Naturally, Ray gives chase, though the film sets up a structure in which we see a defeated Ray early on talking to his therapist (Alan Alda) about what’s going to happen: “I killed my dad. Clearly, Ray has some scores to settle when he reunites with his father, turning the film into a mystery of just how this line will pan out. Will Ray finally give Mickey the punishment he’s deserved for years? Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
As Ray heads to Boston, Hollander and Schreiber continue the flashback structure that made the seventh season so compelling, further filling out the background of young Ray (Chris Gray) and Mickey (the phenomenal Bill Heck). The father-son arc throughout the series gains depth as the film fulfills part of what is essentially a cleaner’s origin story: A feature film just shot in Boston, turning Mickey into a local star and teaching young Ray some of the profession skills that would define him during the show’s early seasons.
The most captivating material of Ray Donovan: the movie comes in these flashbacks, which are rich in terms of writing, acting, and craftsmanship. (Heck in particular nails the dangerously flippant charm of a young Mickey in a way reminiscent of a similar danger found in early Voight performances, if more energy than impression.) Holland and Schreiber clearly have a mine of ideas about how Ray and Mickey became that way, and the film’s masterstroke is how it connects Ray and Mickey’s last act to a formative first act. Ray has been cleaning for his dad for a long time, and in many ways, Ray Donovan: the movie concerns the day he chooses to stop doing this cleaning.
While Ray Donovan: the movie cleverly focuses on the Mickey-and-Ray dynamic, the writers make time for a few other favorite characters, giving most of the key players stories that are more ellipses than periods. That would have felt wrong for a show that was often willing to deal in gray areas to carefully tie together each character’s life on Ray Donovan as weak series endgames tend to do; maybe some of the supporting players would have had more finality in an entire season, but Hollander and Schreiber give the Donovan family just enough narrative to make for a satisfying conclusion.
Most of these family interactions occur early in the film as Terry (Eddie Marsan), Bunchy (Dash Mihok), and Daryll (Pooch Hall) reunite after Smitty’s funeral, which of course turns into a drunken, rowdy affair. The family dynamics of Ray Donovan developed over the years as Ray’s brothers become more than just another mess for the cleaner to deal with and the actors delve into how connections can be forged through shared trauma. Whether it was Terry’s almost fatherly dynamic with his niece or the way Bunchy allowed his demons to derail his happiness, the dimensionality of the supporting cast really elevated a show that felt overpowered at the during its first seasons by more flashy plots and the powerful charisma of Schreiber and Voit.
There are some narrative elements of Ray Donovan: the movie who feel rushed, especially in how quickly these complex characters move from the end of season seven to their final minutes. (The film could have left Kerry Condon and Josh Hamilton behind because their return here feels like an entertaining footnote.) But that’s somewhat offset by performers like Marsan and Mihok who get some nice send-offs that allow fans to take a look. imagine what those Donovan boys could do. after the story ended without feeling like they were cut off mid-sentence, as they would have been without this semi-renewal by Showtime.
Bridget at one point says of her grandfather, “He taught you to forget,” which seems central to the repressed trauma that defined Ray Donovan. Abuse, whether by the church or a parent, can lead to denial and even numbness in its victims when it comes to the value of life. For years, Ray looked at violent situations and saw only the problems that need to be fixed instead of the broken humanity that would stop most people in their tracks. He often misses the human cost because he has had to pay so much himself, stranded by superficial masculinity and institutions that should protect children like church and family. Ray Donovan improved dramatically in its later seasons when it allowed its lead character to really explore those ideas, and that unboxing continues and, in many ways, ends in the film.
Will this be the last word on Ray Donovan? Probably. Given the constant diet of nostalgia highlighted by things like the unexpected return of Dexter, no one can ever be absolutely sure, but it feels like a real end for Ray Donovan, a man who always cleaned up the mess left by others until he had to face the one his father created in him. -same. We’ll never quite know why Showtime denied Ray Donovan a good farewell season, but nothing was ever easy for Ray. Why should his final work be any different?