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Ray  (2004)


Starring: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, et al.
Taylor Hackford

Rating: PG-13

Distributor: Universal

Release Date: 10.29.04

Review Posted: 10.29.04


By Sara M. Fetters


Dynamic Foxx Makes "Ray" Sing


As if we weren’t sure before, now it’s official: This is the year of the Foxx.


First, Jamie Foxx reminded everyone of his strong comedic chops in the otherwise uninspiring “Breaking All the Rules.” Then he stole a picture away from Tom Cruise while at the same time showing a restraint and a range theretofore unknown with “Collateral.” Now comes part three in a trilogy of great performances, and if this one doesn’t have Oscar written all over it than it would be a crime of titanic proportions.


Seriously, the Academy Award’s race for Best Actor is over. Finished. Kaput. Just hand Foxx the statue now. Not only is his performance as the legendary Ray Charles in Taylor Hackford’s solid – if rather by the numbers – biopic “Ray” stunning, it’s also just the type of role Oscar voters eat up with a spoon. Heartfelt, emotional, raw; Foxx isn’t so much impersonating the late singer/songwriter as he is channeling him. Sure, the actor nails all of Charles’ trademark tics, shifts, bobs and rhythms, but he also gets to something much, much deeper, entering into territory full of inner demons and visceral sensitivity. Foxx is a powder keg lighting the screen afire and bringing to life one of the great musical geniuses of the 20th Century.


“Ray” follows Charles from his beginnings here in the smoky nightclubs of Seattle of the late 1940’s all the way to his final battles overcoming an addiction to heroin in 1966. In a lifetime of accolades, awards, fame, family and more, Hackford’s film is, of course, only a small glimpse into this icon’s history, but what a glimpse it is. Choosing to focus on the years that shaped him, the almost 20-year period that changed the face of gospel, soul, blues, rock, pop and country-western – heck, changed music – forever, the filmmakers have given audiences a rare look inside the life and times of a true American success story. And if it doesn’t fully rise above convention, doesn’t quite deliver on all of its promise, “Ray” comes so tantalizingly close and is filled with performances so refreshingly alive I can still sing its praises with nary a reservation.


Essentially, Hackford and co-writer James L. White choose to breakdown Charles life into three distinct acts: As a five-year-old dealing with the duel losses of his brother and his sight to a mysterious ailment, on the road discovering the sound that would make him legend and, finally, addictions to both drugs and women that could have stripped away all he painstakingly earned. It’s a rather cliché story arc, and yet Hackford directs with such a steady hand, weaving in and out of the both the past and present, that it still works pretty darn well.


Credit for this doesn’t go strictly to Foxx. The women of “Ray” are very bit as up to the task of bringing this story to life as he is. Kerry Washington, so full of promise in pictures like “The Human Stain” and the otherwise forgettable “She Hate Me,” sparkles as Charles’ put-upon wife Della Bea Robinson. More than just the prototypical ‘girl’ role, even if it isn’t written much broader than that, Washington shares a touchingly refreshing chemistry with Foxx, the duo bringing their troubled relationship to life with passion and heart. Even better is “Daddy Day Care” and “Legally Blonde 2” co-star Regina King. Finally getting a role equal to her talent, King takes the part of lead Raylette Margie Hendricks and runs with it. She’s a firecracker of sparkles and energetic bursts, a pulsar speeding through space coming so close to the atmosphere she’s about ready to self-immolate. Both newcomer Aretha Robinson, as Ray’s dirt-poor mother Sharon Warren, and Aunjanue Ellisof “Undercover Brother,” as Charles’ first female vocal partner Mary Ann Fisher, are also wonderful, subtly shading both women into much broader terrain than the screenplay appears to allow.


But “Ray” does have more than its share contrivances. The opening Seattle sequences – mostly embellished or outright fictionalized – have a b-movie pizzazz (they even include a pint-sized emcee played by former Ewok Warwick Davis) but they don’t push the picture forward. In fact, an early subplot revolving around a Mrs. Robinson-like nightclub owner keeping Ray around as her own personal sex toy is downright silly, screaming like an idea that should have stayed on the drawing room table. And while most of the musical epiphanies and explosions in the film feel ornately organic, the birth of Hit the Road Jack feels like it came straight out of a z-grade Hope and Crosby road movie.


Yet Hackford and company get so much of the rest of it right, contrivances like that are few and quickly forgotten. The artist’s relationship with Atlantic Records managers Ahmet Ertegun (Curtis Armstrong) and Jerry Wexler (Richard Schiff) is wonderful, the trio embracing one another like family eager for their exuberant child’s success. This teaming, long before Atlantic became a multi-national record, would set the stage for the rest of Charles’ accomplishments, even getting him the credibility and commercial clout to insist upon ownership of his own masters – something not even Frank Sinatra could claim – when he moved to ABC Paramount in 1959. Sinatra went so far as to call Ray, “the only genius in our business,” and that statement is just as true now as it was all those decades a go when first spoken.


All you have to do is look at the music to see it. From I Got a Woman to Drown in My Own Tears to Georgia on My Mind to What’d I Say, there was no genre, no style of music Charles could not take over and make distinctly his own. This movie not only explores this talent, it revels in it, musical supervisor Curt Sobel and composer Craig Armstrong bringing Ray’s sounds to such life it’s almost like hearing all these sublime records again for the very first time.


In the end, though, the reason to pay the price of admission is to see next year’s winner for Best Actor in action. This is Foxx’s coming out party, his ticket stamped and taken for entry into the big time of A-list talents. Like Charles was to music, it is quickly becoming apparent Foxx might just be the same to movies. From comedy to drama to musical to action, there seems to be no genre this talented dynamo can’t master. That’s certainly the case here, for with Foxx onboard “Ray” doesn’t just shine, it sings.


Film Rating: êêê1/2  (out of 4)


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