Dir: Taylor Hackford. US.2004. 152mins
A scene-stealing co-starin Collateral, Jamie Foxx becomes a star attraction in Ray. Hisaccomplished performance as music icon Ray Charles has Oscar contender writtenall over it and offers conclusive proof of his leading man potential.
The film itself is a solid,diligent biopic in which director Taylor Hackford displays the samecrowd-pleasing touch he brought to the Richie Valens story in La Bamba(1987). Hackford wisely puts the music front and centre which should maximisereturns from a public still emotionally connected to an artist who died earlierthis year.
Charles's last recordingsare still a fixture in the charts and he is therefore a much more immediatelyaccessible figure than recent biopic subjects like Bobby Darin (Beyond TheSea), Cole Porter (De-Lovely) or Peter Sellers. Substantial domesticreturns could translate into international territories especially if Foxxbecomes a fixture at the end of year awards.
Ray Charles career spannedmore than half a century which creates problems for anyone attempting to conveythe essence of it in a single two and a half hour epic. Hackford andscreenwriter James L. White take the tried and trusted route of seeking a keyincident that unlocks aspects of the man's character and motivations.
Here, it is the lingeringguilt he felt over the accidental drowning of his younger brother and the filmis filled with flashback moments to the incident and the shame it stillprovokes. Like every biopic from The Glenn Miller Story to Bird,it also focuses on the man's quest to discover his own voice through his music.Initially successful, Charles only comes into his own with a unique brand ofgospel and rhythm and blues that sends him to the top of the charts.
Plushly mounted, the glossyfilm offers a year by year account of the Charles story from the late 1940s tothe early 1960s, capturing both the admirable and unsympathetic aspects of theman from his drug addiction to his stand against racial segregation, hisconstant womanising and refusal to consider himself a victim because of hisblindness. His mother emerges as the most significant influence on him,depicted in flashback harshly underlining his need for independence.
A little slick andmethodical, Ray seems unable to avoidthose biopic moments that make you wince. "What's you name'," asks one youngfellow. "Ray Robinson," Ray replies. "Hi, I'm Quincy Jones," is the response.
Although the Charles storyhas elements of the underdog triumphing over adversity, it doesn't have theobvious dramatic arc and intensity that Tina Turner's life provided for What'sLove Got To Do With It. Hackford contrives his arc in Charles' guilty pastand ultimate decision to end his heroin addiction, leaving the last forty yearsof his life as a footnote.
Reservations about the filmmelt away in the face of Foxx's performance. His physical resemblance toCharles is remarkable in certain scenes and he goes beyond mere impersonationto stamp his presence on the part. When he takes to the stage, playing, singingand rocking with the joy of his music, you almost feel you are in the companyof the man himself.
Charles could not have askedfor a more dedicated and convincing performance or a more generous salute tohis life and times.
Prod cos: Universal Pictures, Bristol Bay Productions, AnvilFilms
Int'l sales: Universal Pictures
Exec prods: William J Immerman,Jaime Rucker King
Prods: Taylor Hackford, StuartBenjamin, Howard Baldwin, Karen Baldwin
Scr: James L White based on astory by Taylor Hackford and White
Cine: Pawel Edelman
Prod des: Stephen Altman
Ed: Paul Hirsch
Music: Craig Armstrong
Main cast: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix,Terence Dashon Howard, Larenz Tate, Richard Schiff