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October 2004

By Wilson Morales


Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: Taylor Hackford
Producers: Taylor Hackford, Howard Baldwin, Karen Baldwin, Stuart Benjamin
Screenwriter: James L. White
Composer: Craig Armstrong
Original Music: Ray Charles
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, Clifton Powell, Aunjanue Ellis, Harry Lennix, Terrence Dashon Howard, Larenz Tate, Bokeem Woodbine, Sharon Warren, Curtis Armstrong, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, David Krumholtz, C.J Sanders, Thomas Jefferson Bryd, and Warwick Davis
Screened at Loews 84th & Broadway




If there was ever a performance that captured the essence of a man's life, it's the incredible one that Jamie Foxx gives in portraying the late musical legend Ray Charles in "Ray". Filled with some of his well-known songs and packed with revelations unknown to today's youth and others, "Ray" doesn't hold back in describing in length, at 2 hours and 32 min, all that the things that this blind man has gone through in his life and what he did to overcome his fears and be the legend we have all came to love and respect. A labor of love for Director Taylor Hackford, the film is boasted with amazing performances across the board from Foxx as Charles and to the leading ladies (Washington, King, and Ellis), to supporting players (Powell, Lennix, Woodbine), and to the newcomers (Warren and Sanders). This film and Foxx's performance has been talked about for most of the year and after seeing it, I concur, that Foxx has definitely reached the peak where Denzel, Will Smith, and Morgan Freeman, and Don Cheadle are now. Mostly known as a comedian, Foxx had enough dramatic roles this year with "Redemption" and "Collateral" and is so solid in this role that an Oscar nomination is the least he should get.

Written by James L. White, the picture starts with snippets of Ray's early life being the forefront of his demons. Set in the early 1930s in Georgia, Ray Charles Robinson came from a poor background as his mother Aretha (Warren) struggled to make end's meat. With his brother George tagging along, young Ray (C.J Sanders) would run and have fun around their house while Aretha would tend to her daily chores. When an accident kills his brother George, Ray would be mentally scarred for life. Within the year of his brother's death, Ray would slowly go blind and his mother Aretha would teach him how to be strong and learn for himself, and not be a charity case. As a young teenager and already gifted as a pianist, Ray ventured off on his own to Seattle and landed a gig with Gossie Mckee (Howard). Gossie would have Ray play at empty nightclubs until Ray's music started packing the place. One of the people Ray meets during this period is a young Quincy Jones (Tate). Taken advantage of from his Gossie and his manager, Ray bolts with Quincy and signs a contract with a record label as the pianist for another band. At first, life isn't pleasant as Ray is left alone while the band members look for women to score with or drugs to get high from. When the time comes for Ray to perform, the others see how much of a draw he is. By that time, Ray had dropped his last name and went by Charles, since the boxer Ray "Sugar" Robinson was already famous and had the name locked up. Once the fame came and then the women, Ray then dabbled in heroin, which would become an addiction for years.

Off all the women Ray Charles was with, the one that captured his heart was a gospel singer named Della Bea (Washington). With his road manager Jeff Brown (Powell) in attendance, Ray and Della Bea were married and settled in Texas. While Della Bea tended to being home and raising the kids he would have with her, Ray would give his "tender, love, and care" to the numerous women, including Mary Ann Fisher (Ellis) and Margie Hendricks (King), he had worked with while on the road. He would never stop using drugs as it eased his mind from thinking about the tragedy with his brother years ago. Throughout the 50s and 60s, Ray's fame grew to heights unknown. Not only did his music moved up the charts, Ray would flip the script and change the style of his music from R & B to country and still capture the world's attention. Along with the ups, there were the downs, starting with one affair gone astray and a child born out of wedlock. Not only that, but Ray was arrested for drug use, and at that time the white media were eager to humiliate him. With Georgia banning him for life for refusing to play there, Ray faced some hard times, but with the love and support of his family and friends, he overcame his "demons" and began a new life to becoming one of the greatest musicians and legends today.

"Ray" stands out as the one of the finest biopics to come out this year. Aside from an electrifying and Oscar worthy performance from Foxx, the entire cast, as mentioned previously, is outstanding. It's a breakout role for everyone involved. Regina King has been in many films with some of today's leading black actors, but this role is really a career defining moment. The "Hit the Road Jack" scene is definitely one worth remember because it will blow your mind. Washington is adorable and brings in a lot of heart as the tolerant wife who endures Ray's drug addiction and womanizing throughout their marriage. For all the bad guy memorable characters Clifton Powell has played in his career, there are a number good guy roles he's had that go unnoticed. Not anymore. Powell is essentially subtle but effective in his role as Ray's trusted friend and road manager. The performances that are very effective and worth mentioning are the newcomers played by Sharon Warren and C.J Sanders. The minute Warren opens the films with her words of strength and determination, you get an idea as to how courageous Ray's mother must have been and Warren was astonishing and held her own amongst this bevy of talent. For Sanders, as a young Ray, he was remarkable in his scenes where he's going blind. As a film about a musical legend, musical performances were expected, but knew how powerful these scenes would be. From "Mess Around" to "Georgia", each scene was filmed with elegance and had a tingling sensation to them. Curtis Armstrong and Richard Schiff were terrific as the men from Atlantic Records who nurtured Ray's music. For Hackford, his dream has come true. His story of Ray Charles is out and considering the long journey it took (15 years) to get out, it was worth the wait. Ray Charles died shortly after hearing and maybe "seeing" the film, but the timing couldn't have been more perfect. Too often we get stories on legends when they are long gone and not much is looking besides it being a film. Ray Charles was a great musician, a flawed man, but a pioneer. His quest to overcome his disability is just one of the many stories within this man's life that needed to be told. Folks may say that the film is a bit long, but considering how much Ray went through, ask yourself what could you leave out? There are plenty of depths of Ray's life that need telling. "Ray" is truly one of the best films this year.