“Ray” masterfully recreates the life, struggles and successes of Ray Charles. It follows the perseverance of Charles, a blind pianist, in his youth, his shrewd business skills and Charles’ ultimate descent into the clutches of heroin addiction. Admittedly, this portrayal of Charles is over-dramatized, the flashy portions emphasized and the more subdued ones left out, but it remains surprisingly tasteful for a mainstream movie.
The film primarily focuses on Charles’ life between the late 1940s and the mid 1960s. Charles begins his career by moving from his home in north Florida to Seattle to play at a nightclub. His band attracts the attention of a small record company that decides to sign him. His career slowly climbs, eventually attracting attention nationwide. But at the same time, he becomes a heroin addict and a womanizer. He eventually has to overcome these obstacles while at the same time dealing with disloyal band members and uncooperative backup singers.
Jamie Foxx’s performance as Charles is uncanny. Not only does he look like Charles, but he has so perfectly captured Ray’s voice and mannerisms that it is easy to forget he isn’t the man himself. Foxx, a pianist himself who studied at Julliard, does a flawless job of playing along to Charles’ songs, although his lip sync is occasionally off. Nevertheless, his performance is quite convincing and significantly adds to the authenticity of the film.
The biggest flaw in the movie is its questionable use of flashbacks. Although this doesn’t detract from the overall effect, it is unnecessary and could have been worked around, or at least done better. The time sequence is especially shaky toward the beginning of the movie (a particularly bad place to be unclear) although it straightens up toward the end.
The movie also focuses too heavily on the one 20-year section of Charles’ life. Granted, it is definitely the most important 20-year section, but still would have been nice to know more about the later life of Charles.
Regardless, “Ray” is a great film. It is clever while at the same time being honest, and sometimes poignant. It is also a testament to a man who was successful in spite of blindness. And it is a timely tribute to one of the greatest musical innovators of all time.