Liev Schreiber’s ‘Ray Donovan: The movie’ arrives but does it deliver?


Dan Buffa and Jordan Palmer, Special For The Jewish Light

This is true. In 2014, writer Joshua Neuman, writing for Heeb magazine, called the “Ray Donovan” series, which aired on Showtime, “the “most important Jewish show on television.” Yes, the story of a family of Irish Catholics from south Boston, who move to Los Angeles, had a high “J.Q” or “Jewish Quotient,” as Neuman called it.

This high “J.Q” started and ended with the actor who played the title character, Jewish super-mega star Liev Schreiber. In between, are Jewish ties both in front of and behind the camera including Donovan’s Israeli sidekick tough guy, Avi, played by Jewish actor Steven Bauer, the legendary Elliott Gould as a lawyer who hires Donovan, as well as show runners Amy Biderman and David Hollander. But aside from just some cast and production members being Jewish, Neuman detailed how Schreiber himself brings his own Jewishness to the character. It’s worth a read, even seven years later.

It was Schrieber’s portrayal of guilt and rage that powered the Showtime drama series for seven seasons, before being abruptly canceled. Now, after a career spent fixing other people’s problems, Schrieber’s “Ray Donovan” will finally have to fix himself — or die trying.

Ray Donovan: The movie

How good is your ability to forget? After seven seasons on Showtime and a brand-new movie this weekend, the Donovan family has it down to a science.

But it’s not car keys or a kid’s schedule that is lost on these inner demon-fueled Boston white picket fence refugees; it’s a lost childhood. For Donovan brothers, Ray, Terry and Bunchy, their lives are forever changed and connected by the actions and mistakes of their father, Mickey. While abuse from within the church played a big part in the brothers’ turmoil at a younger age and as adults, it’s their dad who keeps building cells around their future.

The nuts and bolts of the series revolved around the battle of wills between Mickey and his oldest son, Ray. The movie takes the audience back to the start point of that conflict, when Ray was a teenager getting his feet wet in his dad’s dirty business. By flashing forward to the present and cycling in pivotal moments in their life, the movie answers important questions and creates a 70’s style thriller.

Tying Up Loose Ends

A couple of years after its seventh season suddenly ended with an unresolved story, the movie ties up a few old wounds and produces the pathos and power that big fans of the series will come to love. To be clear, this is a movie that will only be fully appreciated by true “Donofans,” due to the cold-blooded yet warm-hearted nature of the storylines. Casual fans and newcomers may not understand or pull in all the tiny details and moments, but that’s how it should be. The ones who truly appreciated the show and its many layers will get a lot out of this movie.

Here’s the thing. “Ray Donovan” has always carried a B-film spirit; it’s a red-blooded steak of a series because it moved at its own pace, dealt with touchy subjects (church sexual abuse, criminality) and how that trauma can evolve over time. There are no good guys or gals on this show. They’re all carrying some dirt.

The Acting

The Schreiber-led movie thrives on the usual recipes, such as good acting. As Terry and Bunchy, Eddie Marsan and Dash Mihok, respectively, give dedicated performances that only got better with age and scripts. Like Kerris Dorsey’s Bridget (Ray’s daughter), they all get their moments in the movie to shine. I could watch Jon Voight play the elder Mickey — a charismatic timebomb of an individual — all day. He’s crawled so deep into that skin that it’s almost second nature.

Dorsey does some of his best work of the series as the tormented daughter, the one who receives the downhill slope of anguish and guilt.

Bill Heck is a great young Mickey and Kerry Condon could make the camera bleed with her eyes.

Alan Alda reprises his role from late in the series as the shrink who tries his best to break into the soul of Ray and help him. Their conversations in the movie bookend the film’s story arc, as Donovan confesses and discusses dire moments in his life over the phone as he carries a loaded gun in bloody hands.

Wrapping It Up

After being left for dead out in the woods by Showtime initially with the cancellation, the biggest goal of Hollander’s movie (he directed and wrote the script with Schreiber) was to put a seal on the “Donovan” family misery and tie all the story lines together. With a tightly paced and relentless 100- minute run time, they manage to pull it off. Another season would have only squeezed more fluff and useless story threads into the finish. A movie was the best idea because it is a final, one-and-done piece of work that can create closure. Lean, polished, and to the point.

The magic of “Ray Donovan: The Movie” is that it not only finds closure for its embattled characters, but it leaves you satisfied and touched by the powerful nature of its finale.

None of this works with Schreiber. With the guile and ease of a theater-trained actor, he’s never overplayed Ray, putting extra stock into one-word sayings like “sure” and “alright.” It’s still arguably his best and most challenging role, because the amount of poignancy he pulls from small moments goes a long way in this show. Being a producer and co-writer has always given Schreiber the bonus gift of playing the character exactly how it needed to be played. What other actor cuts his own dialogue from scripts? A sure and confident one.

That’s Schreiber and that’s this movie. A confident and powerful series finale.