© 2004 Ray Wong
The Hollywood rumor mill is abuzz with an early Oscar nod for Jamie Foxx for his portrayal of the legendary Ray Charles in RAY, a biopic centered on Charles’ early years. Truth be told, the film rests heavily on Foxx’s shoulders, and the praises he’s received are well deserved.
Foxx (COLLATERAL) plays Ray Charles Robinson, a poor southern African-American who became blind when he was a young lad. The loss of his eyesight helps sharpen his sense of touch and hearing. His musical talent also shines through at an early age.
At 18, he set out to Seattle in pursuit of a career as a musician. Naïve, broke, and lacking confidence, Ray is taken in by some shady people before his talent is discovered by Atlantic Records producers Ahmet Ertesun (Armstrong) and Jerry Wexler (Shiff), who launch Ray’s career and help him find his voice.
With success, Ray also succumbs to the temptations that come with it. Adored by his female fans, Ray finds his way through a long string of affairs on the road. He also finds heroin, which gives him inspiration as well as lets him escape from his personal demons. Feeling alone and the need to overcompensate as a blind man, Ray yearns for love and understanding, and he finally finds it in a pastor’s daughter, Della Bea (Washington). Their courtship is short by sweet, and soon they’re married.
Yet Ray doesn’t find solace in a simple home life. He’s destined for bigger and better things, and his ambition takes him on the road most of the time. While the heroin gives Ray bursts of musical genius that propels him to superstardom, it also renders him emotionally crippled. Though he confesses that Della Bea is the only woman he ever loves (except his mama), it doesn’t stop him from taking up mistresses: his ambitious backup singers Mary Ann Fisher (Ellis) and Margie Henricks (King), who becomes pregnant with Ray’s child. His success eventually breaks up his friendship with loyal friends and partners Jeff (Powell) and Fathead Newman (Woodbine).
Foxx is phenomenal. He’s in almost every scene (except the flashbacks), and his intensity stays constant throughout the whole film. You forget that you’re watching an actor who plays a legend. Foxx is Ray Charles -- not only has he gotten Charles’ mannerisms and voice, he also captures his spirit and soul. It is truly an amazing and inspiring treat to see an actor so utterly absorbed in a role that his own personality disappears. On screen, we’re left with Ray Charles, not Jamie Foxx.
The supporting cast is superior. Washington (AGAINST THE ROPES) plays Della Bea with conviction, kindness, and a genuine love that you’re left with no doubt why her character stays with Charles through thick and thin, even as he cheats and lies to her. King (DADDY DAY CARE) and Ellis (MEN OF HONOR) are wonderful to watch as the women who fall for Charles’ talent and fame. Shiff (THE WEST WING) and Armstrong (DODGEBALL) are equally effective as Wexler and Ertesun. Rounding out the great cast are Powell (FRIDAY AFTER NEXT) as Charles’ personal assistant Jeff and Woodbine (THE BREED) as Fathead Newman. Newcomers C.J. Sanders and Sharon Warren are phenomenal (both Oscar worthy) as the young Ray and Aretha Robinson respectively.
The script does a good job chronicling Ray Charles’ early life and road to fame and heartaches. Writer-director Hackford has created a solid, if straightforward, style of telling the captivating story of the larger-than-life legend. Approved by Charles before his death, the film shows both the good and bad, without making any judgment. We realize that behind the genius and charisma, there hides a man tormented by a childhood tragedy, lost, trying desperately to find his way.
Some of the most intensely emotional moments occur in flashbacks. The scenes between the young Ray and his mother Aretha are gut-wrenching, full of punches and powerful with heart.
Ultimately, this is a definitive star-making vehicle for Foxx, who, until now, has only made a name for himself as a comedian. His dramatic turn in COLLATERAL has put him on the map, but it is RAY that declares for him: I have arrived.
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, Clifton Powell, Harry J. Lemix, Bokeen Woodbine, Richard Shiff, Curtis Armstrong, Aunjanue Ellis, Sharon Warren, C. J. Sanders
Director: Taylor Hackford
Writers: Taylor Hackford, James White
Rating: PG-13 for drug abuse, alcohol, sexuality, mature themes
Script – 8
Performance – 10
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 10
Total – 8.7 out of 10