Four months after his untimely death from liver failure, the
life of legendary musician Ray Charles is finally chronicled the
silver screen in the form of the new film, “Ray.”
Focusing on his rise to stardom in the ’50s and ’60s,
the film highlights the professional triumphs and personal
tragedies that defined Charles as a performer.

The film opens with Jamie Foxx playing a young, struggling
Charles as he crosses the country in search of musical
opportunities. The next two-and-a-half hours follows Charles as he
tours on the road, attains musical celebrity, builds a family,
engages in extramarital affairs and develops a heroin addiction
that threatens to destroy his life.

While several scenes of the star battling personal demons border
on cliché, the film has many redeeming values. First and
foremost, Jamie Foxx is astounding. Throughout the film, it is
difficult to remember that the man on screen is not actually
Charles, but the actor who played a character named Bunz in
“Booty Call.”

The supporting cast also works nicely to recreate the people who
influenced Charles’s life. Regina King (“Jerry
McGuire”) delivers an impressive performance as
Charles’s back-up singer and mistress, Margie Hendricks.

Through the solid directing of Taylor Hackford, the performance
scenes take on a life of their own. Clever sound work splices
actual recordings into scenes with Jamie Foxx’s voice and
other dialogue. A particularly interesting touch comes from the
explanations of different songs’ origins. “What’d
I Say” is born as an improvisation in a strong concert scene,
and “Hit the Road, Jack” develops out of a bitter
lovers’ quarrel.

Unfortunately, some scenes seem extraneous and forced. Repeated
flashbacks to Charles’s childhood occur as he uses more and
more heroin throughout the film. Though a funeral scene is very
powerful, the device of flashbacks is sloppily administered and a
bit too simplistic. Charles’s problems seem to be
conveniently derived from the pain caused by his brother’s
death and separation from his mother. That kind of formulaic style
does injustice to Charles and the psychological factors that put
that mysterious smile on his face.

At one point, Charles decides not to play a concert to a
segregated crowd in ’60s Georgia. The scene is not
particularly well-emphasized, and seems to be hastily added out of
necessity, yet this resolution is later described as “the
proudest moment” of Charles’s life. A bit more
consideration would have helped here. If racial injustice had been
stressed more heavily, it may not have seemed like such a leap.

Ultimately, the film benefits from its subtle wit, its fantastic
music and its adequate storytelling. If nothing else, it is worth
the ticket price to see Foxx churn out a mind-blowing
performance.

 

Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

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