You can’t stop lovin’ Jamie Foxx as ‘Ray’
You would expect a well executed biopic of legendary Ray Charles to include great music, a sympathetic view of his blind-since-the age of 7 challenges and an honest, if somewhat whitewashed, acknowledgment of his heroin addiction and womanizing.
“Ray” certainly does all that and Jamie Foxx more than lives up to all the hype, literally inhabiting the title role. But director Taylor Hackford’s film also oozes a genuine sentimentality, and while Hackford’s love affair with the artist is obvious, the film’s flaws are easily overlooked due to a surprising amount of heartstring pulling moments and chill inducing performances.
And oh that music. Blending jazz/rock/country/ and gospel music, Charles’ self taught arrangements whose originality and influence cannot be overestimated, would literally give birth to “soul.” The film, in a series of flash forwards and flashbacks, traces his impoverished beginnings in southern Florida in the late ’40’s and his rise through Atlantic Records and chart topping success in the ’50s and ’60s.
While the film uses many clich?d narrative styles, they work here and for the first 90 minutes every scene is infused with a sense of power and purpose. Particularly effective are the scenes detailing his childhood and his sudden loss of sight and the urging of his hardworking single Mom (Sharron Warren) to “Don’t let nobody turn you into a cripple.”
The accidental death of his younger brother seems to haunt Ray for years and at least sets the stage for occasional bouts of hallucination and self-destruction that lead to drug use and a penchant for womanizing. While the film should be applauded for chronicling Charles’ imperfections, it also sidesteps much of the pain and ugliness these abuses cause — especially to the loved ones in the artist’s life.
Like his career, “Ray” takes off in scenes that illustrate the musician’s rare gifts, especially in nightclub performances that have an improvised feel and the origin of songs such as “What’d I Say” and “Georgia on My Mind” which resonate with spine tingling authenticity.
Much of this is due to Foxx’s (also superb in this year’s “Collateral”) uncanny portrayal. Yes he has the eerily similar look and his Julliard trained abilities don’t hurt, but his lip-synching, rocking body language, and vocal inflections combine to showcase an emerging powerhouse talent.
Considering other outstanding biographic performances, it’s not crazy to suggest Foxx’s may be the best ever. Will Smith was mesmerizing, if not larger-than-life in “Ali” and though not as charismatic as Jim Morrison himself Val Kilmer was spellbinding in “The Doors.” Gary Busey’s and Lou Diamond Phillips’ acting skills made up for their physical dissimilarities to their characters (Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens respectively). Foxx alone, however, is the whole package — most of the film his portrayal is indecipherable from the real Ray who passed away earlier this year.
It’s usually unwise to start hedging bets before nominations are made but only Jesus himself (as portrayed by James Caviezel in “The Passion of the Christ”) would seem as worthy a contender for the best acting Oscar.
Despite a rather sluggish final half hour and a truncated wrap-up of the musician’s final three decades, “Ray” has enough earnestly moving and shaking moments to do justice, however daunting the task, to one of the great artists of our time.
Rated PG-13 for depiction of drug addiction, sexuality and some thematic elements.