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I'm not a big fan of biopics. I don't mind if the person has been dead for a long time like Thomas More or Cleopatra. But if they were alive during my lifetime, and I remember them as real people, then I have a hard time with some actor playing them. Ray Charles just died last June so he has been a constant presence throughout my life. So it was with some trepidation, that I went to see the new movie biography of Ray Charles. It stars Jamie Foxx in the title role. I was a bit worried about the acting abilities of Foxx, star of such weighty productions as In Living Color and Booty Call. But I saw Foxx in Collateral earlier this year and he showed he could act. Anyway, I shouldn't have worried. I agree with all the other reviewers who say that this is an Oscar calibre performance. It's better than that because, while you are watching this movie, Foxx becomes Ray Charles so convincingly that you don't even think about him acting. Ray Charles had an amazing life, to put it mildly. He was a trendsetter in many musical genres, and also broke many color barriers as he was composing, recording and performing during the Civil Rights era in the 50's and 60's. He was banned for life from playing in the state of Georgia when he refused to play in front of a segregated audience. Years later, in 1979, his version of "Georgia On My Mind" was named the Georgia state song. In a strange time-travel sequence, they recreate the scene in the Georgia legislature, with Julian Bond playing his younger self.
Ray follows the life of the larger-than-life musician from his dirt-poor childhood in Florida in the 1930's to the 1970's. Foxx is joined by C.J. Sanders who plays Ray Charles as a young boy. Charles' childhood is told in flashbacks which deal with his growing blindness and the death of his brother (Terrone Bell) which scarred him for life. Ray's mother (Sharon Warren) sent him to school to better himself and as a young man he set off to Seattle to start his musical career. He meets a very young, Quincy Jones (Larenz Tate) and quickly gets signed by a music label. But it when he signs with Atlantic Records by Ahmet Ertegun (Curtis Armstrong) and Jerry Wexler (Richard Schiff) that he starts churning out hit records. He meets and marries a young woman (Kerry Washington) in Houston and starts a family. When on the road performing, Ray Charles was constant womanizer. He fathered 12 children by 8 different women, many of whom were members of the constantly changing Raylettes, his backup singers. This movie doesn't try to hide Ray Charles' warts but these women are personified by two singers, Mary Ann Fisher (Aunjanue Ellis) and Margie Hendricks (Regina King) in the movie.
Ray is a really great movie. Like I said, Jamie Foxx just disappears into the character of Ray Charles. The supporting cast is very good also, in particular, the women in Charles' life, his mother (Warren), his wife (Washington) and his mistress (King). This is Warren's first film and she's pretty intense. Washington has been around but mostly in little seen films like Against the Ropes and The Human Stain. She gets to shine here. King has also been around the block, most memorably as Cuba Gooding's wife in Jerry Maguire. If you like trying to pick out familiar faces in a movie, take a close look at the guys playing the record producers. They look awfully familiar don't they? Wexler, of course, is Richard Schiff, now famous for playing Toby on The West Wing. His facial hair moved to the top of his head for Ray and he looks very looks strange. Ertegun is played by Curtis Armstrong whose first two roles, as Miles in Risky Business and as Booger in Revenge of the Nerds really typecast him for life. He gets to do something different here. In Risky Business, as a teenage friend of Tom Cruise, Armstrong utters the best advice anyone has ever given, "Every now and then say, "What the fuck." "What the fuck" gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future."
Besides the great acting and a compelling story, Ray has a good director as well. It is Taylor Hackford, director of An Officer and a Gentleman, Against All Odds, and most recently, Proof of Life. He has shown that he can tell an emotional story well, and he does so again here. This movie isn't called Ray for nothing. Jamie Foxx is front and center in nearly every scene, on stage and off and he is this movie. The only thing he doesn't do is sing. He lip syncs as do all the cast. It is well done. Foxx has an Oscar nomination locked up and the film might get nominated as well. It deserves it.