August 11, 2005
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terence Dashon Howard, Larenz Tate, Richard Schiff, Regina King, Curtis Armstrong, Chris Thomas King, David Krumholtz, ,
Ray (2004) traces Ray Charles’ humble beginnings growing up dirt poor in Florida to the rhythm and blues legend that he became. In between, we are given insight into his creative process and the ups and downs of his life and career. Early on he traveled from his home in Florida to make a name for himself in Seattle, working dirty, run-down clubs. Ray was not only oppressed by white society in the late ‘40s but by black people as well. He wasn’t allowed to make decisions about his own career. People assumed that just because he was blind that he wasn’t smart. This couldn’t have been further from the truth and with the help of a young Quincy Jones (Tate), he set out on his own and never looked back.
Ray’s life changed in 1952 when Atlantic Records bought out his contract. He hooked up with hip record producer Ahmet Ertegun (a virtually unrecognizable Armstrong) and we start to gain some insight into the musician’s creative process. Ahmet gets Ray to stop playing like other musicians and frees him up to do his own thing and develop his own style. Once this happens, Ray’s energetic style is allowed to flourish and the hits start coming with the help Jerry Wexler (Schiff) and engineer Tom Dowd.
The film shows the solitude Ray faced because of his blindness. He was initially shunned by his peers and at times all he had was his music. The danger with biopics officially sanctioned by its subject (or their estate) is that it will be a puff piece that will only show one side (usually the positive one) of that person. Ray attempts to show the musician’s inner demons. Throughout most of his life he was tortured by memories of the accidental drowning of his brother when they were little kids. He was wracked by guilt because he didn’t do anything to save him.
It is this guilt that perhaps led him to try heroin as a means of escape. What started off as a taste became a raging addiction that affected his life and his career. The film doesn’t shy away from his shabby treatment of women—seducing them, using them and then cutting them loose when they threatened the stability of his home life and business. He cheated frequently on his wife while on the road but would ultimately return back to her and she eventually convinced him to kick his drug habit.
Jamie Foxx uncannily captures Ray’s distinctive speech patterns and body language to such a degree that you forget you are watching an actor and instead Ray himself. Foxx not only perfectly recreates Ray’s performance style but, more importantly, is able to embody the man off-stage. It is challenging enough to play a famous public figure (especially one so well documented as Ray Charles) but doubly so for one who is handicapped and do it convincingly. Foxx capitalizes on the promise he showed with dramatic turns in Any Given Sunday (1999) and Ali (2001) by showcasing fully developed acting chops in Collateral (2004). However, in these films he was always relegated to a supporting role. Ray moves Foxx into the spotlight and forces him to carry the picture, which he does like someone truly inspired and transformed by the role and the material.
This is what makes Ray work. While it goes through the standard biopic paces it does so in an entertaining and engaging way. It becomes obvious early on that this was clearly a labour of love for all involved and Ray’s recent death only makes the heartfelt power and emotion of the movie resonate that much more.
The first disc allows one to watch the movie with 14 deleted scenes put back in for an extended cut. While they do added to the overall fabric of the movie their quality and how they are awkwardly spliced back in is sometimes distracting.
Director Taylor Hackford contributes an extremely knowledgeable and engaging commentary track. He is a very intelligent speaker who puts various events and people depicted in the movie in their proper historical context. He also talks about how certain scenes were put together technically but in easy to understand terms. Hackford also talks at length about which scenes are fictional and why they took dramatic license in these instances. This is a top notch account of the making of this movie.
The second disc allows one to view all fourteen deleted scenes on their own.
There are also two “Extended Musical Sequences” that allow one to watch the full performances of “What Kind of Man Are You” and “Hit the Road Jack” that were only shown partly in the movie.
“A Look Inside Ray” features Hackford talking briefly about how it took 15 years to make this movie and how he couldn’t have done it without Jamie Foxx, who made it well worth the wait.
“Stepping into the Part” is the strongest extra on this disc and examines how Foxx worked with Ray to learn how to play like him and transform himself into the man. Fox already knew how to play the piano and was able to pick it up fast. There is some great footage of the two men playing together.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
Finally, there is “Ray Remembered,” a nice tribute to the man with the likes of Quincy Jones, Al Green, Hackford and Foxx singing his praises and briefly talking about Ray’s enduring legacy.