Jamie Foxx makes ‘Ray’ a stunning success

[rating=4]Starring: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terrene Dashon Howard, Larenz Tate, Richard Schiff, Regina King, Curtis Armstrong
Director(s): Taylor Hackford
Writer(s): Story by Taylor Hackford and James L. White; Screenplay by James L. White

Jamie Foxx is 'Ray'
Jamie Foxx is ‘Ray’

There aren’t exactly that many biopics that I really enjoy. Partially because they aren’t done well, but also because they tend to take too many licenses with the truth. But with Ray we’re given a surprisingly honest film that doesn’t appear to pull any punches. It’s Ray Charles, warts and all, and in the end you may not necessarily like the man, but you cannot leave without respecting his genius.

I’m not sure this is the greatest film I’ve ever seen, but if ever there was a movie that was carried by the performance of its star, than Ray is it. With stunning ability, Jamie Foxx expertly disappears into the part. You forget the actor and feel that you are witnessing a young Ray Charles slamming away gracefully at the piano.

The film’s story follows the professional highs and personal lows of musician Ray Charles. When we first meet him, Ray is just starting out in Seattle, Washington. He overcomes those who are out to take advantage of him, but begins a drug addiction that consumes him for years. Although we meet Ray as a young man, several flashbacks scattered throughout take us to his childhood, exploring his life and how he lost his sight. Many of Ray Charles’ most famous songs are noted, each used to mark milestones in his career leading into the 1970s.

The Ray Charles we’re shown in this film is arrogant, haunted, confident and lonely. A multi-faceted personality that has a clear and profound talent that allowed him to create some of the greatest music ever recorded. He not only understood music, but had the ability to create sounds on the fly and catch a note on the first take. Unquestionably a great talent.

But with that talent came an arrogance and hypocrisy that often alienated those around him. It was surprisingly honest in that regard, never flinching to show Ray’s dark side. It’s here where the film ascends from a standard biopic to a powerful story about the man and his talent. Had it attempted in some way to whitewash him, then it would have become fake and lost depth. I have to respect the filmmakers for that, as well as Ray Charles himself, who participated in the making of the film.

While Ray was constructed well, the glue that holds it together is undeniably Jamie Foxx. His near perfect performance of Ray Charles elevates the movie. I cannot recall another film like it where an actor so beautifully disappeared into the role, leaving behind the ghostly image of the man he was portraying. Where Jim Carrey’s turn as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon comes off as more an impersonation than a performance, Foxx transforms himself. Although there is a moment or two where the actor peaks through, Foxx becomes Ray Charles.

After taking this film in, I was asked if Jamie Foxx deserves the Oscar for Best Actor. Honestly, my first reaction was torn. Personally, I’ve been rooting for Don Cheadle from Hotel Rwanda as my pick. And to a degree, I’m still a little on the fence. They are both outstanding performances. The biggest difference, however, is that Foxx plays a recognizable figure. Ray Charles, for the most part, is a pop culture legend that most people have seen on stage or in interviews. We have a sense for the man. Jamie Foxx so successfully captured that, making his performance feel better.

Cheadle’s performance as Paul Rusesabagina may also be based on a real person, but there is no personal connection for the audience. Paul is not someone we are familiar with, as such while we recognize him as a real person, we have no frame of reference. Nothing to connection Cheadle’s performance to.

Honestly, I would be happy if either of them win, because of the group I think they are the most deserving. But my guess is that Foxx will get it, and he deserves it just as much as Cheadle does. It is unfortunate that the two had to turn in such stellar performances in the same year.

I don’t want to exclude the other actors in Ray, because there really isn’t a weak performance to be found here. I was especially glad to see Curtis Armstrong, who plays Ahmet Ertegun, one of the producers at Atlantic that gives Ray his first successful recording contract. The man who was “Booger” in Revenge of the Nerdsand Herbert Quentin Viola in the television series, Moonlighting, is one of the most underrated actors. It was great to see him given an opportunity to shine in a high profile production, he deserves the attention.

The Ray DVD includes a collection of great extras, including some insightful commentary by the movie’s director, Taylor Hackford. There are quite a few deleted scenes, 14 all together. Each are accompanied with a brief commentary by Hackford, who explains why the scene was cut. A documentary takes a look at Ray Charles’ life and career, as well as a brief feature that gathers friends and fellow musicians to discuss the artist, who sadly died before the film was released.

There is also an extended version of the film that has about 25 minutes not featured in the original theatrical release. To be honest, I didn’t watch that version. Although I plan to, I really wanted to base my opinion of the movie on what most people have seen.

I wasn’t sure what I’d think of Ray before watching it. I’d heard all the hype about Jamie Foxx’ performance, but sometimes the hype is far from the reality. I was happy to discover that the hype was real, and that Foxx creates a powerful performance in a film that is probably one of the best biopics I’ve seen.

Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 2 hr., 32 mins.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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