|Playing the late, great musician Ray Charles with a hyperactive amount of enthusiasm, Jamie Foxx easily brings his audience into the world of the legendary performer, with the music of the Charles himself allowing the performance to hit the mark dead center. A very traditional biography about the ups and downs of a famous personality, director Taylor Hackford takes the viewer through the familiar idea of fame driving a person to alienate one's friends, drop into the grips of hard drugs, and rise above those struggles. Presenting the film with a series of flashbacks concerning Charles' childhood in rural northern Florida, the film's locations run the gamut from the deep, racially divided South, to the entertainment capitals of the United States, Los Angeles and New York City.|
There are two outstanding elements to this films and those items are the performance of Jamie Foxx and the music of Ray Charles. The film overall is stocked with solid performances from the supporting cast, though much of the dialogue seems to have been written so as to take advantage of the type of "one-liners" that might appear in a theatrical trailer. First time screenwriter, James L. White, creates a full-bodied story, but the production sometimes seems too heavy and lacking in direction. Not the direction as it regards the performances, but direction in the way it presents the same few themes and ideas multiple times.
The difficulties Charles faces as a black man in the racially divided South and as a blind man are multiple, but Ray's problems with these issues and his increasing dependence on drugs appear as an unwieldy addition to the story of his rise to the top of the musical charts. These social ideas are arresting in small quantities, but they seem to be presented to the audience in the same type of scenes over and over again. Ray has problems with his lack of sight, he has problems with the drugs, and his fame grows exponentially with each of his musical hits. That's story of his life.
Charles was behind a lot of "firsts" in the music business and his creativity behind the keyboard is nothing if not legendary. And it's a very good thing that Charles' music is so heavily featured in the film, because the screenplay's approach to Ray's life is quite standard. Which doesn't really doom the movie since the soundtrack is so impressive. One of the best scenes in the movie doesn't have anything to do with the drug problems or womanizing Charles engaged in. The scene is around the middle of the film when Charles and his band have to finish a set at a bar and don't have any additional music prepared.
Completely on the fly, Charles sits at his piano and starts thumping out one of his most famous tunes, his band joining in a mere few seconds later. An audience member watching the performance asks Charles' road manager where he can buy the record and the road manager replies that it's not even available yet. This scene easily carries the audience away with its enthusiasm. And much of the film is just like this scene. Showcasing Charles' incredible talent against the backdrop of a very standard, accessible presentation is this film's game and it covers a good portion of his life.
The portion of his life that might have seen better portrayal is the years when Charles learned to play the piano. Sprinkled throughout the film are scenes set early in Charles' life when he was a child and one of these scenes shows Ray entering a ragged business establishment and finding an elderly man at a piano. It is the old man who teaches Charles to play. But this is the only scene in the entire film that deals with his schooling on the keyboard and this is something that the film's creators probably should have spent more time on.
Ray is admonished by his little brother, not to enter the business where the piano is, but the audience is never told why Ray isn't supposed to go inside. And the scene where Ray begins his training on the piano is but a few seconds long and is really too short. In fact, Ray's early years could have been covered in more detail to the great benefit of the film. But despite the interesting sets, costuming, and cinematography of Ray's early life, the film spends much more time on Ray's adulthood, so much so that the film extends beyond the comfortable two hour mark.
Although Ray's life could certainly be considered epic, watching this film to its completion is not always an easy task once the film extends deep into it's third hour. What may keep the audience's interest in the film are Foxx's well-mimicked performance of Ray's look and personality and the genius of Ray Charles' music. It's a deserving story about a fascinating man and its excessive length is probably one of its only detractors. A well made film on all fronts, some of the best non-performance elements of the film are the set decoration and the costuming and cinematographer Pawel Edelman shows each of the locations to their most interesting and beautiful levels. But the true star of this film is Ray Charles' music and it pushes a rather standard biography into something worth listening to.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.