October 31, 2004

RAY – A Movie Review

A Biopic About The Great Ray Charles and His Music
By Fred H. Arm
WHEN Ray Charles died last June, he had ascended to the most profound level of fame; no longer merely a celebrity, he had become an icon. Some of Charles's music has become so familiar that we risk being blinded (forgive the pun) by the creativity and innovation that made it great in the first place.

In "Ray," this film biography directed by Taylor Hackford, much of the greatness is relived, albeit somewhat lengthy and redundant. Hackford plods through the signature R & B hits of the mid-1950's, the astonishing forays into orchestral pop, and country-and-western of the early 60's as if we were hearing it for the first time. In this film version, "Hit the Road Jack" emerges almost spontaneously from a hotel-room lovers' quarrel between Ray (Jamie Foxx) and Margie Hendricks (Regina King), one of his backup singers. Although this episode may be somewhat fictional, and is no doubt embellished Hollywood style, "Ray" unusually succeeds for a movie of this kind, by presenting a vivid, convincing portrait of a great artist.

"Ray" occasionally strays into mushy sentimentality and simplistic psychobabble; nevertheless, Hackford and James L. White, the screenwriter, have refined an insight that eludes most filmmakers who try to display the lives of famous artists on-screen, in that the real story lies in the art of cinema itself.

"Ray" occasionally flashes back to Charles's childhood in Florida, describing his life-long suffering due to his younger brother's death and his own blindness. The film does not shy away from his constant womanizing or his heroin addiction; its main concern is his wonderful music.

What makes "Ray" such a fulfilling motion picture, in spite of some deficiencies and compromises, is Foxx's inventive, intuitive, and enormously intelligent performance. That this one-time comedian possessed such formidable acting abilities was evident even back in the days of "In Living Color," and has been more recently demonstrated in “Collateral”. Foxx has totally mastered Charles's leg-swinging gait, his open-mouthed smile, and the tilt of his head, his spasticity, as well as his speaking style. One gets the sense that he is not just acting as if he were Ray Charles; he also understands him completely and knows how to communicate this understanding through every word and gesture, without explanation. Jaime Foxx is Ray Charles.

"Ray" although not a great movie is a really good movie about greatness, in which honoring the achievement of one major artist becomes the vehicle for the emergence the other. Of course I am referring to Ray Charles and Jamie Foxx, although at this point I am not entirely sure I can tell them apart. The movie could have been thirty minutes shorter as I caught myself nodding off occasionally as the tempo of the film dragged itself along. It nevertheless remains a wonderful film celebrating one of the all time music greats.

"Ray" is rated PG-13. It has sex, drug use, and some profanity.

Posted by fredarm at October 31, 2004 06:19 PM
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