We’ve all heard of Ray Charles. As possibly one of the most innovative and unique musical performers of recent times, we are familiar with his look and his sound. After his recent death in 2004, we were reminded of what a large impact Mr. Charles has had on music and on our country.
Now, with the release of the film “Ray,” directed by Taylor Hackford, we can learn a great deal more about a man who changed the sound of music.
Beginning with Ray as an adult, the film shows the rise of the blind musician. It chronicles his romance with his future wife, bouts with a heroine addiction, his affair with a back-up vocalist and the struggle to stay on top in an industry that is not always kind.
Dispersed among these elements of his life are flashbacks from his childhood. Among other memories, we see his brother die and his mother teach him how to deal with his blindness.
Despite many visual taglines and dates onscreen, it is often difficult to put the events of the film into context. “Ray” lacks the continuity that would seem natural in a biography.
The film runs for two and a half hours, a sign that there was a lot of footage to be edited. Possibly because of this, the presentation of the story is often disjointed and lacks the coherence that can make a life story powerful.
Hackford (“An Officer and a Gentleman,” “The Devil’s Advocate”) treats each theme and each part of Ray’s life equally within the film, opting for a larger scope instead of more probing depth. The drugs, affairs and struggles are portrayed in the same fashion as the talent, dedication to music and commitment to civil rights.
Since the film has an objective point of view, we never get the feeling that Hackford is trying to lead us to a specific conclusion; instead he guides us with facts, allowing us to come to our own about the music legend.
The one truly wonderful aspect of the film is the performance given by Jamie Foxx. He is simply astonishing as Ray, nailing the mannerisms and appearances dead on. Having played the piano since he was three years old, Foxx seems all the more comfortable playing the role.
The early Oscar buzz surrounding the film and lead actor is definitely warranted, and I would be very surprised if Foxx wasn’t nominated come January.
All the performances were very impressive, as was the overall quality of the film. It was enjoyable to watch. The atmosphere was constantly alive, be it in the deep south, a smoky bar or an elegant concert hall.
“Ray” is a film that will definitely touch its audience. “Ray” may not be fully complete as a film, but it does succeed in many respects and gives an honest portrayal of a musical legend.