Directed by: Taylor Hackford
Premise: A biopic of musician Ray Charles. The film charts his career from his first jobs in bars to his major success in mainstream record labels but also his struggles with drug abuse.
What Works: The film is a very balanced portrait of Ray Charles’ life, giving us the good and the bad. We see him as a very loving father but also as a drug addict. Similarly, we see his generous creative side but also a ruthless business sense. Like Will Smith’s role in Ali, Jamie Foxx’s performance of Ray Charles is dead on. Unlike Ali, the story has been well structured and paced out to create a sense of narrative unity.
What Doesn’t: The issue of racism is not dealt with very strongly; Charles is at the height of his artistic prowess in the middle the civil rights movement but the film makes very little connection between this and the racial barriers that Charles broke, the challenges that he faced from racism, and perhaps most importantly, the way Charles’ financial success allowed him latitude in a racist society.
Bottom Line: This film is constructed as a personal story about addiction and overcoming chemical dependency and a physical disability. On that level, Ray is very good and one of the best pictures this year. Jamie Foxx’s performance is extraordinary and one of the strongest biopic performances of a celebrity that has ever been seen. The movie will be fun for fans of jazz, blues, and R&B but also for general audiences as well.
Episode: #26 (November 7, 2004)