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JAMIE FOXX SHINES IN AN INCREDIBLE TRIBUTE TO THE GENIUS OF RAY CHARLES

Any doubt as to whether or not Jamie Foxx can act should be removed after seeing him in Ray. It sounds cliche' but he doesn't just portray him onscreen, but seems to become him. Maybe it's the cosmic harmony of Ray passing away so soon before this film's release, but the glow of greatness of the man's work coupled with this exquisite portrayal by Foxx makes for one of the best tributes to a man's life and work that anyone could hope for.

The real life story of Ray Charles reads almost like a super hero origin story. At a young age, growing up in extreme Georgia poverty, he's traumatized after finding his brother floating dead in a metal wash-tub. A year later he loses his sight, but those final haunting images stay with him forever.

A strong mother, played masterfully by newcomer Sharon Warren, shows Ray tough love and teaches him to deal with his blindness, eventually sending him off to a school.

Instead of presenting this in a chronological fashion, these early scenes are shown to us as flashbacks peppered through the film at appropriate times with a storytelling style that reminds me of Alan Moore's Watchmen comic.

Foxx has Charles' mannerisms down perfect, from his posture, to his slack jawed smile, to his charming southern voice. But his natural comic timing and previous film experience allow him to help make Ray larger than life. Foxx even plays the piano and sings in many of the scenes. It's pretty obvious when they're using Ray's music and vocals instead, but it's not distracting in the least. Let's face it, when you get down to it, nobody can sound like Ray, anyway.

Ray is up there with Amadeus and The Buddy Holly story as one of the more excellent films about musicians ever made.

And of course, the music is beyond incredible as we see the evolution of Ray from a Nat King Cole soundalike, to a man that defined the soul sound. His philandering and heroin use punctuate the journey along the way.

This is one of the few movies with a ton of cameos that actually work well and don't distract from the enjoyment of watching it. Curtis "Booger" Armstrong is great as producer Ahmet Etregun, and Richard Schiff (The West Wing's Toby Ziegler) is almost unrecognizable as Jerry Wexler, with a full head of hair and no beard.

Clifton Powell, does a great job as Webb, who's Ray's best friend and confidant, who is put at a greater distance from the star as he becomes more and more successful.

It's great watching the early Ray climb his way to magnificence by staying true to what he wants to do. For a black artist to get the clout to release a Country and Western album in the early 60s was both unheard of, and wildly successful.

There's almost too much to tell, unfortunately. Ray's heroin problems, touched on through most of the film, end up bogging the ending down a bit. We've seen detox scenes before and it's not all that entertaining to watch someone writhe around on a bed, throw up, and have hallucinations for 10 minutes. But that's not Foxx's fault, just some good editing would have made that flow better. Just when the film feels like it's starting to drag, it's all over, however.

The hero's journey in this film is put on fast forward, with a "For the next 40 years...." title card catching us up to present.

It's the performance scenes, both in-studio on onstage, that make this film really special.  The credits show that lots of research went in to the dancing styles and fashion of the era, so it feels as if you've gone back in time and got to watch Ray sing in his prime.  The excitement of him loosening up his style and banging out "The Mess-Around" for the first time is great.  And a favorite scene of mine is when he kicks his female backup singers out during a spat, and ends up recording their entire 3 part harmony by himself.

I heard a few of the larger publication movie critics saying they think Foxx is a lock for an Oscar, with perhaps only Johnny Depp's performance in "Finding Neverland" being close to contention. I can't say that I disagree.

If you like Ray Charles even remotely, you'll love this movie.

If you just like a good success story, you'll enjoy it as well.

And if you just want to see a good film, you can't go wrong with Ray.

Adios Ray Charles, you really kicked some ass, and I'm glad you helped make this movie, and lived until the filming was through.

-Robert Berry
rberry@retrocrush.com

 

 

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