Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx) made his way to Seattle as a teenager to join the jazz scene, shortly after the war. He left behind his loving mother, and the memories of his younger brother, George, who drowned in a tragic accident when Ray was 5 - when he began to go blind. Ray's natural talent and a fierce determination led him to become an accomplished musician. He was signed by Atlantic Records and his fame began to spread, as did his bad habits: women and heroin. His marriage to Della Bea (Kerry Wahsington) was troubled, despite his deep seated love for her. On the road, he took several girlfriends and eventually gave them all up when he finally gave up heroin during a period in rehab. His success was also marred by squabbles and dissent within his band, and a switch to the ABC recording label. But audiences couldn't find fault with Ray, who returned to a State welcome in Georgia in 1979, 28 years after he was banned from there for refusing to play at segregated concerts.
Review by Louise Keller:
He was born with the music in him. That unmistakable rasping voice that caressed every lyric of every song, irrespective of the genre. His eyes might have been hidden by dark glasses, but his soul was clearly on display through his music. His foot started tapping, his fingers danced on the keyboard and his body simply moved with the rhythm. Ray Charles was the king of soul, the master of jazz, the innovator who married blues with gospel and loved country music because of the stories it could tell. Breaking more than the barriers between the music genres, he stood up for what he believed in, including racial discrimination.
Ray is a powerhouse of a film, and Jamie Foxx inhabits the character with so much voracity that it is impossible to decipher where Foxx ends and Charles starts. It's an electric performance that sizzles on every level, always leaving us with the feeling that Ray Charles himself would approve. Before his death, Charles gave the approving nod for the casting of Foxx, who also learned the piano from an early age and lip-synchs with great conviction.
Director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and A Gentleman) concentrates on 15 crucial years in the life of Ray Charles Robinson - from his humble beginnings through the highs and lows of both his personal and professional life. We meet the struggling musician, the lover who determines a woman's beauty by feeling her hands, the loving husband, the junkie whose habit gets out of control, the astute businessman who learns how to get an even better deal than Sinatra. He leads a double life. There's life at home in a fine house with his wife Bea (Kerry Washington) and growing family. But there is also life on the road, which means shooting up, a girl in his bed (Regina King as Margie) and a show every night. And not necessarily in that order. Music is what flows through his veins.
The flash-backs to his childhood, when Charles experienced life's hardest blows, are the film's most moving moments. Witnessing the accident that saw his younger brother George drown in front of his eyes is one that haunted him for much of his life, the trauma of which, together with glaucoma, was partly responsible for his blindness. His hard-working laundress mother Aretha (Sharon Warren, magnificent) taught him to use his ears as his eyes, and by not over-coddling him, instilled in him key survival instincts. 'You might be blind, but you're not stupid,' she tells him. These are the moments that jolt our emotions and if, like me, you are the kind of person who cries in movies, the tears simply flow.
Ray the film, like his songs, depicts every emotion from devastation to elation. It's an affecting and an exuberant journey, and the music just keeps coming. In the recording studio, on the stage, wherever it might be...our toes tap and we are transported by the music and the rhythm. If you are a Ray Charles fan or a lover of music or life, this film is a must.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Ray Charles has been a musical presence in my life from my teens, although it was only recently that I took any interest in the man as distinct from his music. Like anyone, Ray was a complex human being, and this film does him justice - in the sense that it shows his imperfections and weaknesses as well as his extraordinary talents. By portraying Ray Charles in as complete a way as it can, the film not only pays tribute to the recently deceased legend, but does so with a degree of honesty that he would have admired.
Whether it is totally truthful, I am not able to say; but I can say that it's a film made with tremendous sincerity and great scholarship, notable warmth and a degree of adulation. But that's understandable; in any event, the film never condescends to us nor spoils the portrait with false praise. Flashbacks to his childhood are remarkably well done, effective in conveying elements from his childhood which would stay with him all his life. Things about his mother and how she built his character; things about his brother's death that haunted him.
Anyone drawn to the film would be a fan, or at least familiar with some of his work. So it is essential to get the music right, if for no other reason than to be fair to the fans. Well, this film gets the music right, and Jamie Foxx dons the body of Ray Charles, while the magicians of filmmaking put Ray's voice in his throat, his fingers on the keyboard. I don't really care how all that is done, but it works. Of course, Foxx does more than mimic Charles - though he does capture the man's physicality perfectly: he delivers a wonderfully complete person whose pains and joys are made evident to us, whose demons are on show and whose love of music transcends it all.
It's a remarkably satisfying performance, constructed with a great mix of terrific technique and pure talent. The supporting cast are also wonderful, from Sharon Warren as his loving mother to Kerry Washington as his wife and Regina King as his mistress through the musos and the record company execs.
Needless to say, the film can't paraphrase 74 years of a life into 153 minutes; but it does give us a sense of the man. How he guided his own life, how he refused to be victimised for being blind, and how he fell foul of drugs. And how his womanising hurt him and his family. The film neither condones nor condemns his actions, but tries to understand him, while demonstrating the depths of his immense musical talents.
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CAST: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Bokeem Woodbine, Aunjanue Ellis, Sharon Warren, C.J. Sanders, Curtis Armstrong, Richard Schiff, Larenz Tate
PRODUCER: Howard Baldwin, Karen Elise, Baldwin, Stuart Benjamin, Taylor Hackford
DIRECTOR: Taylor Hackford
SCRIPT: James L. White, Taylor Hackford
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pawel Edelman
EDITOR: Paul Hirsch
MUSIC: Ray Charles, Craig Armstrong
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephen Altman
RUNNING TIME: 153 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 26, 2005
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.