Ray (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner05/11/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 150 mins

Impressively directed, enjoyable biopic with terrific music sequences and an Oscar-worthy central performance by Jamie Foxx that more than justifies its lengthy running time.

According to the press notes, it has taken director Taylor Hackford 16 years to bring his long cherished biopic of legendary musician Ray Charles to the screen. The result is a ringing endorsement of the wisdom of waiting for the right actor to come along (Dino producers, take note), because Jamie Foxx is note-perfect in the role.

Sadly Charles himself died earlier this year, but he had co-operated with the project and gave it his blessing, as well as contributing several original recordings.

Covers 1948 – 1966

The plot encompasses the period from 1948 till 1966, with occasional flashbacks and a brief epilogue set in the 1970s. Through flashbacks we learn that Ray (who was born Ray Charles Robinson) witnessed the accidental death of his brother in a traumatic drowning incident and, two years later, went blind from glaucoma at the age of seven. They also detail his relationship with his fiercely independent mother (Sharon Warren), who teaches him not to be intimidated by his blindness, before sending him to a special school for the blind.

The bulk of the film charts Ray’s astonishing music career, as well as his marriage to Della Bea (Kerry Washington) and his affairs with backing singers Mary Ann Fisher (Aunjanue Ellis) and Margie Hendricks (Regina King). It also suggests that his deep-seated guilt over his brother’s death played a large part in his eventual addiction to heroin; this culminates in a rather mawkish ‘forgiveness’ hallucination scene towards the end.

However, this strikes the only dodgy note in an otherwise impressive screenplay that doesn’t shy away from the more unsavoury details, such as Ray’s drug-related arrests and his often shockingly selfish treatment of the women in his life.

Naturally, some of the details have been slimmed down: the film fails to mention his two divorces and we only hear of three of his twelve surviving children, although a bizarrely-placed credit towards the end of the film does at least acknowledge them.

Foxx Outstanding Lead

Foxx is outstanding in the lead role, particularly during the excitingly staged music sequences where he perfectly captures Ray’s inimitable style; he even wore prosthetic eye pieces for several weeks during filming that rendered him as blind as Charles himself. It’s an incredible performance and one that is guaranteed to net him an Oscar nomination, if not the award itself, come February.

The film also has an excellent supporting cast, particularly Kerry Washington and Regina King as the main women in Ray’s life, although there’s also good work from Sharon Warren as Aretha Robinson, as well as Curtis Armstrong and Richard Schiff as Ray’s music producers at Atlantic records.

Also noteworthy is Aunjanue Ellis as Ray’s first mistress; Hackford gives her a smartly edited exit scene in which she jealously smashes Ray’s windshield and then turns and disappears into a cab as the announcer says, “Ladies and gentleman…Miss Mary Ann Fisher!”

In short, Ray is an enjoyable, impressively directed film that’s worth seeing for Foxx’s performance and the music sequences alone. It is also entirely likely to have you scouring the shops for Ray Charles CDs immediately after seeing it. (Tip: The Definitive Ray Charles). Highly recommended.

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Ray (15)
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Content updated: 23/10/2017 00:02

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