a critiQal film review Ray (2004)

Plot: Ray Charles Robinson (Foxx) has been blind since the age of 7 - but he's never let that stop him from accomplishing whatever he set out to do. Despite setbacks ranging from the death of a loved one to infidelity to eventual heroin addiction, Ray Charles led a life full of both misery and joy. Now that life comes to the big screen in a film authorized by the late Ray Charles himself.

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  • ...Foxx's stunning performance as the legendary singer should not be missed.

Apparently, Ray has been a long time in coming. Ray Charles wanted to get the feel of the film just right – and wanted to find the perfect actor. He eventually approved Jamie Foxx as the right man for the job. With that kind of background, the film caught my attention before it was even finished.

But, I hadn’t decided by that point if I was going to check it out or not. After all, Ray might play out as a boring documentary, hoping to succeed just on the success of it’s subject. When it hit theaters, however, I knew that wasn’t the case – the film exploded, packing in theaters and even garnering a Golden Globe® nomination and an Oscar® nod for it’s star, Mr. Foxx.

I still didn’t want to shell out the big bucks for Ray on the big screen, since I didn’t know if it was going to be my type of film. True, I did enjoy a couple of other biographical pics, Ali (2001) and A Beautiful Mind (2001). While Ali (2001) was impressive because of the interest in the background of the person – and Will Smith’s incredible performance – A Beautiful Mind (2001) was good because it took a figure not to many people had heard about, and presented his rather unique story with the help of a surprisingly good performance by Russell Crowe.

With these two opposites (famous person vs unique story), it was hard to guess which way Ray would go. Would it just hope to succeed on the interest in it’s star, or would it actually portray an interesting story to back it up? When the film hit DVD, I just had to find out.

One thing that seemed apparent going into Ray: the audience would see a breakthrough performance by (until now) second-rate actor Jamie Foxx – if Ali (2001) and A Beautiful Mind (2001) were any indication. Maybe there is something about biographical pics that really bring out the best in an actor (not to mention the rave reviews J-Lo got for Selena and Denzel Washington for The Hurricane, as well).

Whatever the case may be, Jamie Foxx definitely didn’t disappoint (despite his lackluster attempt at superstardom earlier this year with Collateral (2004)). Mr. Foxx brings Ray Charles to life in a way no other actor could have done. It’s amazing the way he’s able to really capture the essence of Ray Charles and bring it to the audience in a wholly personal way. There will be many times during this film when the viewer will forget that it isn’t Ray Charles up there on screen – it’s Jamie Foxx. For an actor in a biographical picture like this one, that’s about the best complement they can get.

There are other actors in Ray, and they give decent performances, but Jamie Foxx really steals the show. Here’s hoping Mr. Foxx will continue down this new road of great success, rather than merging back into blandness as fellow biopic actor Russell Crowe did (Good news: based on one of the previews on Disc 2, it look like Russell Crow is making a return to biopics with Cinderella Man).

The plot was quite intriguing, especially if the viewer has no idea about Ray Charles’ personal life. The film starts with Ray venturing off to Seattle to begin finding his way in music, and we learn about Ray’s childhood through the help of flashbacks (and some rather eerie sense-hallucinations of being surrounded by water). These help fill the viewer in, while continuing Ray’s journey into music history.

For the casual fan, all of Ray’s big hits are here, from “Georgia on My Mind” to “Hit the Road Jack”. These hit songs really help the movie, as the viewer is instantly more interested when they come across something they recognize in a film, and are able to learn more about what Ray was going through when these hits were created.

There are a few special effects scattered throughout the film, mostly in terms of different camera tricks. These are used solely to provide enhancement for different things that Ray experiences, from slowly losing his vision at a young age to (years later) going through heroin withdrawals. They really enhance the sequences they are in, bringing home to the viewer a greater grasp of what Ray was going through at the time.

All in all, Ray comes close to being the best biopic I’ve seen to date. With an interesting story about a legendary signer, Ray brings together the best of both Ali (2001) and A Beautiful Mind (2001). While Ali (2001) still shines bright in it’s boxing matches, and the uniquely intriguing story combined with it’s great acting still make A Beautiful Mind (2001) the best overall, Ray definitely comes in as one of the best.

Jamie Foxx’s stunning performance as the man himself just has to be seen – but the story will also keep the viewer hanging around. While it is a bit of a long film (about 2½ hours), and does end somewhat abruptly (not when you think), Ray is a definite must-see for anyone, fan or not. Plus, finding out the very interesting background on some of Ray Charles’ most famous songs (most notably “Hit The Road Jack”) is just an added bonus that will keep the viewer sticking around to the very end.

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