Music and Demons
Biopics usually make me uncomfortable, especially when they’re about someone who has family members and friends still living. Unfortunately, this bias effects my overall impression of these films -- and, despite Jamie Foxx’s incredible performance as the legendary Ray Charles in Ray, I couldn’t shake that feeling.
Yes, I realize a movie about Ray Charles needs to show how he overcame poverty, blindness, racism, womanizing (well, maybe not womanizing) and heroin addiction to bring a new kind of music to the world. But I don’t understand why the focus should be on his personal demons. I can’t help worrying about how such negative emphasis impacts his widow, his children and his grandchildren. Why not spend more time showcasing Charles’ wonderful contributions when he was drug free -- which just happens to be the last half of his life? Perhaps that’s not dramatic enough -- but, oh the fabulous music we would’ve been treated to!
That said, Ray does feature some rousing musical numbers, but many of them are not played or shown all the way through. Still, we do see Foxx’s uncanny Charles-like piano playing and on-target lip-synching (though sometimes singing in his own voice) of great Ray Charles hits like “Georgia on My Mind,” “Hit the Road, Jack,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “I Got a Woman,” ‘Unchain My Heart,” “What’d I Say?” And, happily, the entire film perks up when three actresses playing the Raelettes appear and perform numbers with Foxx.
Foxx (Collateral) miraculously captures Charles’ spirit and soul as well as his physical mannerisms. This talented actor makes us believe what the musical icon wrote about himself in his autobiography. “I was born with music inside me,” Charles explains. “Music was one of my parts, like blood. It was a force already inside me when I arrived on the scene. It’s a necessity for me -- like food or water. Music is nothing separate from me. You’d have to remove the music surgically.”
With music flowing through his veins like blood, Charles refused to limit himself to one musical genre. He mastered blues, jazz, gospel, country and western -- winning 12 Grammys in the process. He became a beloved American figure with fans all over the world. His is a true rags-to-riches tale.
Under the direction of Taylor Hackford (Proof of Life), Ray relies on flashbacks to illustrate Charles’ tragic childhood. However, these disjointed scenes, no matter how well-played and photographed, interfere with the flow of the story. (When telling about a person’s life, why not start at the beginning?) And the screenplay by James L. White suffers from a disappointing ending that seems more an afterthought than a triumphant conclusion.
Nevertheless, Ray is worth seeing not only for Foxx’s bravura performance but also for the film’s spirited music and strong supporting cast, notably Regina King (Down to Earth) as Charles’ volatile mistress and Kerry Washington (Against the Ropes) as his long-suffering wife.
As for me, I’m waiting for Ray: Vol. 2 -- The Real Man and His Music. Wishful thinking, I know, but if Quentin Tarantino can get away with a two-volume movie, why not Hackford?
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “PG-13” for depiction of drug addiction, sexuality and some thematic elements.)