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"Ray" Movie Review

An Unflinching Look at an American Legend

By

Ray Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in "Ray"

© Universal Pictures
“Ray” has been labeled the best movie of the year and the movie to beat at the Oscars. And those are just a couple of the many titles slapped on the film months before its theatrical release. Is it possible for any movie to live up to all the hype associated with this Ray Charles biopic? I personally believe such a large amount of positive buzz can actually work against a movie like “Ray.” Anything less than brilliant is bound to be a letdown. Any part of the film that isn’t pitch-perfect could be given more weight than it might have, had the movie not been touted as this year’s sure thing. That “year’s best” title is a lot to live up to. It almost prods you into rating this movie on a different level.

“Ray” is not a perfect film. It’s overly long, includes a few scenes you’ll 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 mother’s death and made his way across the United States from Florida to Seattle. Soon after arriving in Seattle, Ray’s 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. It’s 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. We’ve 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 Ray’s wife Della to Regina King as Ray’s mistress/back-up singer Margie Hendricks to newcomer Sharon Warren as Ray’s 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.

GRADE: B+

"Ray" was directed by Taylor Hackford and is rated PG-13 for depiction of drug addiction, sexuality and some thematic elements.

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