Ray (United States, 2004)
Taylor Hackford's Ray has a tremendous performance by Jamie Foxx and a soundtrack that is jammed with recordings by the late Ray Charles, but both work in service of a paint-by-numbers screenplay that runs too long and could have been developed in Biopic 101. This is a stagnant motion picture that runs out of energy well before the halfway point, then staggers through the seemingly interminable final hour. The movie may only be 2 1/2 hours in length, but it seems to take a lot longer to cover less than two decades of Charles' life. Some critics are being surprisingly kind to this movie, which may indicate that they're afraid criticism of the movie will somehow be seen as criticism of Ray Charles. Such thinking is flawed. Charles was a great artist; Ray is far from a great film.
I'm sure that Ray Charles (born Ray Charles Robinson) lived a pretty interesting life - maybe even one worthy of turning into a feature film. But you couldn't tell based on what Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman) has done with it. If I was to accept his view of Charles' first 35 years, I would conclude that he lived every cliché in the music business. Hackford has turned this saga into a bad soap opera.
The film opens in 1951, with a 21-year old Ray heading for Seattle to play in a lounge club. Ray progresses from this jumping-off point, with occasional flashback forays to the '30s to depict events from the lead character's formative years. The bulk of the movie transpires during the '50s and early '60s, and illustrates Ray's development from lounge singer to recording superstar. Along the way, he falls in love and gets married, battles drug addiction, and has a baby out of wedlock. His support of the Civil Rights movement gets him banned from ever again playing in Georgia (a ban that was subsequently rescinded), and one of his mistresses dies of an overdose.
The one constant in the film is Jamie Foxx, who does more than just mimic Ray Charles; he inhabits him. Put the glasses on Foxx and sit him down at the piano, and the actor vanishes. The illusion is dispelled only once, during a dream/fantasy sequence in which Hackford ill-advisedly gives Ray sight. With the glasses removed and the eyes open, the character looks exactly like Jamie Foxx. Foxx not only earned as Oscar nomination for this role, but won the award.
Sluggish, conventional, and almost completely lacking in energy, Ray is a textbook example of how not to make a bio-pic. Take away the bravura performance by Foxx and a soundtrack that chronicles Charles' early recording history, and you're left with a tranquilizer. And the film is long enough to provide an opportunity to catch a few winks.
Ray (United States, 2004)
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Richard Schiff, Curtis Armstrong, C.J. Sanders, Sharon Warren, Aunjanue Ellis, Bokeem Woodbine, Harry J. Lennis, Clifton Powell, Regina King, Kerry Washington, Larenz Tate
Screenplay: James L. White
Cinematography: Pawel Edelman
Music: Craig Armstrong, Ray Charles
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures