The movie follows the story of Charles from his birth in 1930 up until he overcame his twenty-year addiction to heroin. Born into a poor background in Florida to a mother who lived a hand-to-mouth existence and an absentee father before being blinded at the age of seven after seeing his brother drown, Charles became an influential name in pop music in from the late ‘50s onwards. He controversially fused R&B with gospel music and found soul. As well as influencing music itself, Charles fought against racial segregation and exploitation of recording artists by record companies and managers.
Thankfully, the movie doesn’t fall into the trap of being so much on the side of its subject as to make him a morally pure rags-to-riches hero. Charles’ real handicaps were womanising and heroin addiction rather than his blindness, and Hackford admirably refuses to gloss over these issues, producing a much more interesting movie as a result.
The performance given by Jamie Foxx really can’t be lauded enough. After ten minutes or so of watching him it’s hardly conceivable that you’re not watching Charles himself. All of his mannerisms are excellently carried off and Foxx also does the musician proud on the piano. As the movie had access to Charles’ recordings Foxx isn’t called upon to sing - while he pulls off everything else about him, no-one could expect him to sound like Ray Charles. Very strong supporting performances come from Kerry Washington as the star’s wife, and Regina King as one of his mistresses.
One possible fault to be found with the movie is the way in which it decides to end by skipping forty years of his life. Then again, this is perfectly understandable. Although the film certainly felt shorter than its two-and-a-half-hour running time, it just wouldn’t have been practical to cover more of Charles’ life in detail, and the cut-off point chosen by Hackford is a logical one. The fact that you want to know what happened in the rest of the life of a man you knew next to nothing about a couple of hours beforehand shows how compelling the performance is.
The only thing I could find to moan about in this film was the heavy-handed approach towards Charles’ guilt over his brother’s death, a thread which climaxes in a dream sequence whilst he is going through cold turkey to beat his heroin addiction in which he is absolved by his long-since dead brother and mother. This is a minor point and does little to mar an otherwise flawless film.
Ray is a must-see film if only to witness Foxx’s breath-taking performance, which is undoubtedly worthy of an Oscar. This, it’s well crafted structure and toe-tapping soundtrack all go to make an exceptional movie.