Ray: Foxx = Oscar
The seamless storyline traces Ray's life from birth through the late
Sixties, with a poignant postscript in the 1979, when "Georgia on My Mind" was declared the State Song of Georgia. This and other trademark hits have been woven so imperceptibly into the plot that the musical breaks are never noticed. With Foxx lip-synching undetectably, the film, of course, features haunting refrains from a key selection of Ray's tunes. There's "Hit the Road, Jack," "Drown in My Own Tears," "Unchain My Heart" and "I Can't Stop Loving You," to name a few.
Ray Charles Robinson was born in the tiny town of Albany, Georgia on September 23, 1930 to sharecroppers struggling to make ends meet at the height of The Great Depression. Despite developing blindness at the age of
six and being orphaned while still in his teens, Ray would rise from his humble origins and overcome a host of hardships and personal failings to forge an enduring musical career which would span more than a half century.
By the time that he died on June 10th of this year, he was a much-beloved national treasure, leaving behind not only a collection of classics but an inspirational rags-to-riches legacy as a man who'd achieved the American Dream against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Writer/director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman) recognized the cinematic potential of Ray's biography after meeting him back in 1987. As the Oscar-winner recounts, "My God, I never had any idea. I did not realize how he went blind, how he traveled on a Greyhound bus from Northern Florida to Seattle, how he got off that bus as a blind man on his own, experienced discrimination, addiction and sorrow, and yet found his way to become an incomparable artist. I thought, 'This man's story must be told.'"
So, for over 15 years, Hackford devoted himself to making this bio-pic a reality, working closely with the aging icon who willingly shared his very intimate feelings on subjects ranging from watching his younger brother
drown to never relying on a cane or a seeing-eye dog, though sightless to his decades of heroin addiction to his flagrant womanizing to his reaction to the sting of the segregated South. And now finally, that labor of love has arrived in theaters as Ray, a multi-generational costume drama with "Academy Award" written all over it from start to finish.
Jamie Foxx's spellbinding transformation into the title character is nothing short of amazing. For it is a cinematic treat to observe how he meets the challenge of presenting a fresh interpretation of an already familiar cultural figure without relying on recognizable cliches. The rest of the cast is almost as impressive, including Sharon Warren as his mother, Aretha, Kerry Washington as his wife, Della, Regina King as his fiery mistress/Raelette Margie Hendricks, Bokeem Woodbine as fellow junkie/saxophonist David Fathead Newman, Larenz Tate as Quincy Jones, and Curtis "Booger" Armstrong as Atlantic Records producer Ahmet Ertegun. Other support roles are capably handled by such familiar faces as Aunjanue Ellis, Clifton Powell, Richard Schiff and Terence Howard.
The seamless storyline traces Ray's life from birth through the late Sixties, with a poignant postscript in the 1979, when "Georgia on My Mind" was declared the State Song of Georgia. This and other trademark hits have
been woven so imperceptibly into the plot that the musical breaks are never noticed. With Foxx lip-synching undetectably, the film, of course, features haunting refrains from a key selection of Ray's tunes. There's "Hit the
Road, Jack," "Drown in My Own Tears," "Unchain My Heart" and "I Can't Stop Loving You," to name a few.
Because Ray Charles insisted that this picture not sanitize any of the unfortunate aspects of his life, the ensuing dedication to honesty translated on screen as a powerful, emotionally-engaging experience which will inform, entertain and uplift audiences both today and for time immemorial. Not to be missed.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for frank sexuality, the depiction of drug addiction, and other adult themes.
Running time: 152 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
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