Ray is not a perfect film. Its overly long, includes a few scenes youll swear are repeats of earlier moments from the movie, and it ends not with a bang but with a disappointing whimper. But despite its flaws, Ray is a compelling drama chock-full of some of the best performances of 2004.
The film is a trip down the rabbit hole into the life of a legendary American icon whose career had a tremendous impact on musicians of all ages, races, and musical persuasions. Ray chronicles Ray Charles journey from a poor Southern boy raised by a hard-working single mother, to the man who would develop a style imitated but not improved upon to this day.
Ray Charles' youth was filled with tragedy, from watching his younger brother drown to losing his sight at the age seven. His no-nonsense mother taught him to take care of himself and not to depend on anyone for help. Ray grew up strong and independent, and his passion for music, which was a strong influence in his life before the loss of his eyesight, never faded. As a teenager, Ray set out on his own shortly after his mothers death and made his way across the United States from Florida to Seattle. Soon after arriving in Seattle, Rays real journey to make a name for himself began. And the rest, as they say, is music history.
The film exposes Ray Charles darker side and puts his private demons on public display. A habitual womanizer addicted to heroin, Charles life is shown without passing judgment but with every wart probed and examined. Its a brutally honest look at a side of the man many fans, myself included, may have been totally oblivious to.
Despite the fascinating subject, a case could be made for the removal of 15-20 minutes from the middle of the film. A few of the concert segments and recording sessions seem almost redundant, however they do provide a necessary break from the emotionally wrenching, difficult to watch scenes of Charles shooting up or committing adultery. But shortening the film is a double-edged sword. With a running time of 2 ½ hours, Ray pushes the limits. However removing the extra scenes would mean the removal of a few of Charles songs, and that would definitely be a loss. Taylor Hackford can be forgiven for testing our patience at times in order to include as many of Ray Charles memorable hits as possible.
As far as casting goes, Jamie Foxx is perfect as Ray Charles. Weve seen Foxx in dramatic roles before, but in Ray Foxx takes it to a new level. He seems totally consumed by the very essence of Ray Charles. In fact, every single actor in Ray, from Kerry Washington as Rays wife Della to Regina King as Rays mistress/back-up singer Margie Hendricks to newcomer Sharon Warren as Rays mother, turn in nearly flawless performances.
"Ray" is an engrossing film and could ultimately be one of 2004's best. I have an issue with the length of the movie, which is about the only thing stopping me from awarding "Ray" an 'A'. Enough cannot be said about Jamie Foxx's performance and the way he's able to make Ray Charles fans feel, at least for the length of the film, Charles is back here with us.
"Ray" was directed by Taylor Hackford and is rated PG-13 for depiction of drug addiction, sexuality and some thematic elements.