Ray, if you didn’t know already, tells the story of the life and music of Ray Charles. It is the type of story that Academy Awards voters drool over, and Jamie Foxx’s strong performance might be just what this movie needs to garner Best Picture for 2004. Ray is for the most part told chronologically – it starts with the beginning of Ray Charles Robinson’s musical career and occasionally flashes back to his impoverished and tragic childhood. These flashbacks are portrayed as moments of memory as Ray draws needed strength from remembrances of his loving and tough mother.
Like many popular musicians, Ray gets tangled up in drugs (heroin is his particular poison of choice) and despite marrying a good, loving woman he can’t seem to keep from sleeping with others. The story then follows his descent into bad personal problems as he finds his own musical style and rockets to the top of the charts.
Two things make this movie well above average and deserving of its Best Picture nomination: the first is its unflinching look at the life of a musical genius. Ray Charles was a strong man, who was able to overcome a serious handicap as well as become a success during a time when African-Americans didn’t find much success in the United States. The less seen side of Ray Charles was a weak man who hid in his drug addiction to the detriment of the people who loved him – and that included the mistresses he picked up along the way.
The second thing that makes this movie shine is Jamie Foxx’s remarkable performance. This musician was not a perfect man, yet Foxx makes him a sympathetic person without the script having to make the people surrounding him unsympathetic. Everyone in this movie is a human being which is a refreshing change in a big-budget Hollywood production. Jamie Foxx he hit two out of the park last year with Collateral and Ray and was nominated for both performances. I can’t honestly say whether or not Ray deserves the Best Picture Oscar but Foxx most definitely should take something home. Here is an actor who molds his performance around the characters, instead of the characters being tailored to fit the strengths of his acting ability. Such talent is becoming hard to find in the large pool of American actors and I hope he continues to find strong roles. For the first time in a long time I am willing to go to the theater simply because a specific actor in the cast (although I am not looking forward to Miami Vice). This DVD release does fairly decent justice to the movie. One of the strengths of the format is the ability to add scenes back in which may have been cut simply for time, which this release takes advantage of. For the most part the cuts added here were character expansions and musical numbers which help flesh out the story, although none were crucial to it. The downside of this is how choppy the movie becomes because of these scenes. No one even took the time to match the color values of the deleted scenes to the muted tones of the theatrical release. This lack of care is jarring to watch. For a first time viewer, I recommend watching the theatrical release first.
Although a bare-bones single disc version exists, the two-disc release has some decent goodies in it. Director Taylor Hackford’s commentary is worth listening to, as he talks wall-to-wall about the production, the dramatizations he made, and the real people behind the story. The deleted scenes can also be viewed separately from the extended cut, and there are a few extended musical numbers (too few, in my opinion). Also included is a short featurette of Jamie Foxx’s work to learn how to move, play and sound like Ray Charles, a standard ‘making of’ featurette, and a really short tribute to the real Ray Charles, who died in 2004. My only real complaint with the bonus features is they all should have been longer.
Ray is the first biographical picture I have seen since What’s Love Got to Do With It? which I found worth my time. Both movies take a hard look at the people they are about and also show us just why these people became successful and are worth listening to. This movie is well worth buying and watching many times, even it it’s just for the toe-tapping soundtrack. Allow me, however, to preach from the bandwagon one more time: this movie is one step above because of the remarkable performance of Jamie Foxx.
Okay, maybe I will see Miami Vice. If it stinks, at least I know it won’t be his fault.
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