Directed by Taylor Hackford
Story by Taylor Hackford and James L. White
Screenplay by James L. White
In the world of music, there have been few men like Ray Charles. He transcended genres and became a legend by creating music that appealed to people from all walks of life. In the 1950’s he invented soul music when he combined rhythm and blues with gospel music. He had a huge crossover success when he recorded 1962’s Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music. Because of his amazing body of work, he has been honored by the Blues Hall of Fame, the Jazz Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters' Hall of Fame, and the Grammy Hall of Fame to name a few. He is also a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, the U.S. National Medal of Arts and has been made a Commander of Fine Arts and Letters by France.
It was only a matter a time before a man so revered would have his life story made into a film. Ray tells the story of how Ray Robinson, a young boy who lost his sight by the age of seven, became Ray Charles. The film covers Ray’s early life growing up in 1930’s Florida to 1965 when he kicked his heroin addiction. Along the way, we see Ray moving to Seattle, his touring with the Lowell Fulson band, and his time with Atlantic Records where he went from being a Nat “King” Cole imitator to the man known as “The Genius.”
The film does a great job of using Ray’s music as biographical shorthand by combining songs with moments from his life. When he is happy after sleeping with his future wife, he pounds out “I Got A Woman” on her family piano. When fighting with a mistress who’s fed up with him, Ray creates “Hit The Road, Jack.”
The acting is marvelous. Of course, everyone has already heard that the Academy should award Jaime Foxx the Oscar for his performance, and I would be fine that, and not just because it would shorten the show's run time. Foxx captures Ray’s mannerisms and speech patterns so well that you forget you are watching a performance until the end of the film. Unfortunately, all the attention on Foxx neglects the talents of the actresses. Sharon Warren plays his mother. She goes through the ordeal of losing a son and is pained from the tough love she gives Ray to prepare him to survive in the world. Kerry Washington plays Della Bea, the preacher’s daughter who marries Ray and has to deal with the man he becomes, an adulterous drug addict. Regina King is great as Margie Hendricks, who doesn’t realize that most important part of the phrase “Mrs. Ray Charles on the road” is “on the road.” While Foxx is guaranteed recognition during awards season, it would be an injustice if the performances of these women were ignored.
Ray is a good film that has great music in it. It is an enjoyable experience, but then Ray’s music played to a blank screen would be enjoyable. The film itself falls a little short of being great. Ray is nothing more than a straightforward portrayal of his life. It tells us about Ray, but it doesn’t tell a larger story about ourselves. Some of Ray’s experiences we’ve seen many times before, the drug use, the infidelities, but we don’t learn anything new, giving the film a Behind The Music familiarity. While I learned historical facts about Ray, I don’t feel that I learned much about who he was inside.
However, those are very minor gripes, so don’t pay them much attention because I highly recommend this film. Be prepared; you’ll probably run out to buy a Ray Charles’ CD after watching it. “Tell your momma, tell your pa” to go see it.