Review by Michael Jacobson
Jamie Foxx, Regina King, Kerry Washington, Sharon Warren
Director: Taylor Hackford
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen
Features: See Review
Length: 153 Minutes
Release Date: February 1, 2005
"If y'all want me to keep playing, let me hear you say AMEN!"
is that when writer/director Taylor Hackford first approached Ray Charles about
bringing the musical legend's life to the screen, he insisted that it be told
completely honestly: it should
celebrate his life and talents, naturally, but it also shouldn't gloss over
the less savory aspects of his experiences.
Fortunately for him, Mr. Charles agreed.
fortunately for us, too...Ray is far and away the best music biopic
I've ever seen, and I'd also easily consider it one of the best biopics of
any kind overall. It's a
compelling story of a man who overcame not one, but two handicaps to become an
American legend whose genius will forever be celebrated.
The continual stream of classic songs is just icing on the cake.
boasts a central performance that too has become something of a legend.
Jamie Foxx, who got his start on In Living Color and has enjoyed
success in a string of movie comedies really came into his own this year with
two acclaimed bits of acting: his
supporting role opposite Tom Cruise in Collateral earned praise and
end-of-the-year awards recognition, but it was his starring turn as Ray Charles
that really put the world on notice that this young man had arrived.
a role that could have easily crossed the line into parody or mere mimicry, Foxx
finds the heart and soul of Charles and presents it openly for all to ponder:
his joy, his passion, his triumphs...but also his deep rooted pain, his
weaknesses, and his failures. They
all add up to a complete human being that spells out the man behind the legend.
Charles experienced two events in his childhood that forever changed his life.
At 5, he saw his little brother drown in a washtub while, as any little
kid would be, he was paralyzed by the moment and couldn't save him.
It was an image that would weigh heavy on his heart and haunt him well
through his life. Then at age 7, he
began to go irreversibly blind.
mother (Warren), a poor but determined woman, refused to let Ray go through life
as a crippled person, and taught him the tools he would need to navigate his way
through a life without sight. Ray
did so well, as a matter of fact, that he never needed a cane or a guide dog for
help. He could even find his way
through the streets by just counting steps and the sounds of the world around
Ray had other talents, as well...namely, playing the piano and singing like
nobody's business. Though he
started small in country/western bands and jazz combos, frequently doing perfect
imitations of Nat King Cole, by the time he found himself in the family of indie
label Atlantic Records, he was ready to find his own voice and make his mark on
his early single "I Got a Woman", he blended rhythm and blues with gospel in
an exciting new sound that would eventually be known as soul...and it delighted
as many listeners who found it new and exciting as it shocked others, who found
the secular use of gospel to be profane. Later,
he would take what many would consider to be a big risk but for him was a
natural leap into country, which resulted in even more success.
At one point, he even helped lead the charge against the south's Jim
Crow laws alongside performers like Louis Armstrong, which resulted in his
banishment from Georgia for life.
the essential story of Ray Charles, the musician. But Ray also explored Ray Charles, the man.
The guilt of his brother's death may have helped propel him into
musical greatness, but it also may have led him down the dark road of heroin
addiction. Despite a loving wife
(Washington) and a supportive family, he peppered his road life with many
flings, and even took up a sort of psuedo-second relationship with his main
female singer, Margie (King), who found fame and success with Charles, but whom
you could also argue was eventually destroyed by her connections with him.
film doesn't go all the way to the end of Charles' life and career, but
finds a suitable ending point: when
he finally kicked his drug habit for good.
In the year's most unforgettable scene, Ray comes to terms with the
demons that had haunted him all his life. It's
a beautiful screen realization, and one that cements his life as a triumph.
To top it off, we get to witness his historic return to Georgia, where
the state legislature not only offered him a public apology, but made "Georgia
On My Mind" their official state song.
Foxx, as mentioned, had the daunting task of really carrying and driving the
story for its length, and he was more than up to the challenge.
His seeming ease at slipping into the skin of Ray Charles was almost like
seeing a ghost come back to life (Charles sadly passed shortly before the film
was released), and his fearlessness in exploring the tortured side of the famed
musician lent an air of solid credibility to the story.
Oscar should definitely go home with him.
great American success story on many levels.
One, of course, is how a poor blind kid from Florida became one of the
world's most indelible music legends, but another is simply how a troubled man
with more than a share of problems overcame them all to become the person his
mother always knew he could be. Ray
Charles will be forever missed, but he couldn't have asked for a more fitting
memorial than this movie.
knocks one out of the park with this terrific anamorphic transfer.
It employs a full range of visuals from shadowy nightclubs to the bright
sunshine of Florida. Colors are beautiful and well-rendered throughout, with crisp
lines and sharp details all the way. I
noticed no grain or compression to mar the effect.
man, that music! As my buddy Norm
from the band Rush Hour Soul said, there's nothing like hearing Ray Charles'
songs in 5.1. The digital mix opens
up the tunes so that they sound better than you've ever heard them before.
Dynamic range is strong, and the .1 channel keeps the bass boogying
along. Spoken words are clean and
clear throughout, and the rear stage makes nice use of ambient sounds
is a double sided disc, with the film and commentary on one side and the other
extras on the other. On the first
side, you can select either the theatrical version or the extended version...I
recommend the former, just because there's no seamless branching technology
employed, meaning the film pauses as it calls up each deleted scene, as well as
bringing up a note icon so that you're aware of each new scene.
Besides, you can just access the deleted scenes on the second side if you
commentary track with Taylor Hackford is an extremely enjoyable listen...he has
plenty to talk about, and his enthusiastic delivery will keep you a willing
receptacle for all his information about envisioning the project, working with
Ray Charles and Jamie Foxx, story ideas and more. There are also some talent files on this side of the disc.
two has 14 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Hackford and two extended
music numbers from the film, a very cool sequence that shows Jamie Foxx jamming
on the blues with Ray Charles while Foxx explained how he got into the
character, a very short insider featurette, a remembrance special, and a
limited edition version has a second disc of material with introductions by
Hackford and Foxx. There are 7
extended music scenes, so you can hear the full versions of Charles' songs (in
5.1, of course), a look at the women of Ray and the actresses who played
them (seeing Kerry Washington with the real Della Bea Robinson was a treat), a
tribute to Charles, and a look at the filmmaker's journey in bringing the
story to the screen.
edition also has a cool package that resembles a hardcover book, with an extra
booklet of full color photos. A
very nice package.