November 18, 2004 -- “Ray” is a conventional, but informative, warts-and-all biography of the late Ray Charles featuring an Oscar-worthy performance by Jamie Foxx (“On Any Given Sunday”). The movie also benefits greatly from a wealth of powerful supporting performances. The story follows Ray Charles Robinson from his impoverished childhood to the height of his musical career as a pop superstar. Ray Charles won 12 Grammy Awards, and a 1988 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He had 76 best-selling singles on the music charts.
The film gives the viewer insight not only into Ray's musical genius, his savvy business sense, and the uncanny way he was able to use his intelligence and his keen hearing to overcome his blindness, but his addiction to heroin, his womanizing and his single-minded pursuit of his musical career to the detriment of his family. The film pulls no punches in this area.
The film also delves deeply into Ray's musical roots in blues, gospel and country-western music. Much of the film follows his evolution as an artist trying to find his own unique sound. Early in his career, he used his uncanny ability to imitate others, while working in other musical groups.
Jamie Fox gives an outstanding performance as Ray Charles. He is utterly convincing and seems to disappear into the role. Some say he is a shoo-in for an best-actor Oscar. It certainly wouldn't surprise me if he won. It is the kind of performance that the Academy loves. Kerry Washington “She Hate Me”), who plays Ray's long-suffering wife, Della Bea Robinson, also gives a very strong performance. Newcomer Sharon Warren, who portrays Ray's mother Aretha Robinson is a revelation. Her performance is searing in its intensity.
Also providing strong supporting performances are Aunjanue Ellis (“Garden State”) as Mary Ann Fisher, and Regina King (“A Cinderella Story,” “Jerry Maguire”), who plays Margie Hendricks. Both Hendricks and Fisher performed as Ray's backup singers, called “The Raylets.” Another good performance is given by Curtis Armstrong, who plays Ahmet Ertegun, an Atlantic Records executive. There's a nice scene between Armstrong and Foxx which shows how Ertegun and Ray Charles remained friends even after Ray left Atlantic for another label.
The movie is a bit on the long side. It could have been trimmed a bit more. While the film is pretty harsh in its depiction of Ray, it is pretty soft on the other characters. Punches are pulled. The film is directed by Taylor Hackford (“Proof of Life”). Of course, the music in the film is tremendous. The songs are all performed by Ray Charles himself. This film rates a B.
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