Monday, December 13, 2004

Movie Review: Ray (2004)

A film by Taylor Hackford

"Ray" is a biopic about the defining period in the life of musician Ray Charles. While there are flashbacks to Ray's childhood, "Ray" mostly deals with the time between when Ray Robinson (Jamie Foxx) was first starting out in the late 1940's through the 1960's when he became a huge success with "Georgia on my Mind" and was the first black artist to refuse to play a venue if it was segregated. With a ringing admonishment to never let the world treat him like a cripple, "Ray" begins with Ray Robinson getting onto a bus bound to Seattle from Florida and meeting up with a very young Quincy Jones (Larenz Tate). If it didn't happen, I wouldn't believe it. Ray Robinson gets himself an audition at a club and is immediately a hit. The club's owner becomes his manager for a time and begins to cheat him out of his money from the start. Time passes until Ray wises up to what is going on and leaves to strike out on his own where he can play and be more in control of his future.

"Ray" features a series of successes where Ray Charles (Charles is the middle name of Ray Robinson, he changed his stage name because there was already a "Sugar" Ray Robinson who was a boxer) becomes bigger and bigger and his songs become hits and makes the record company, Atlantic, a lot of money. Ray finds a home with his wife Della Bea (Kerry Washington) and they have a child, but Ray has demons of his own. He keeps flashing back to his childhood where he watched his younger brother drown. "Ray" does not sugarcoat the life of Ray Charles. It chronicles how Ray got deeper and deeper into drug dependency and addiction and how he was constantly cheating on his wife when he was on the road. "Ray" also gives the beautiful songs of Ray Charles a chance to shine. I never knew that Ray had recorded "The Mess Around" and hearing "Georgia on my Mind" is sublime. "Ray" follows Ray Charles through his addiction and through his rehab and we get to see him clean himself up.

To be perfectly honest, "Ray" runs a little long at 2 hours and 45 minutes. I don't know what could have been cut or what scene trimmed down, but it started to feel long sometime after 2 hours but before the end. Despite this, however, Jamie Foxx completely disappears in his role as Ray Charles. From the first scene to the last, with the exception of one dream sequence, we are not watching Jamie Foxx doing an impersonation. We are watching Ray Charles. He is that good. Everybody else in the film also does an excellent job, but Foxx is the standout and rightfully so. He carries "Ray" on his shoulders and he carries it well. What best serves this movie is the combination of Jamie Foxx's performance as well as the knowledge that the real Ray Charles had died before this film could be released in the theatres. It is that knowing the man has only recently died that adds to the appeal and the power of "Ray". Perhaps that is sad or unfair, but it is also reality. This is not to say that "Ray" is not an extremely powerful movie and very well acted and well made. It is. But when a film is made about real life, real life affects how the film is perceived.

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