When Jamie Foxx was offered the title role in Ray, he was tested by the 12-time Grammy winner himself. Ray Charles had a certain amount of veto power over the role and scrutinized Foxx’s piano skills before ever signing off on him. Charles’ reaction to Foxx, a talented, classically-trained pianist, was much like what the audience’s reaction may be after seeing Ray. Jamie Foxx nailed it.
Ever since his surprisingly emotional performance in Any Given Sunday, it’s been evident that Jamie Foxx had the makings of a superstar. His flop comedies notwithstanding, Ali, Collateral and now Ray only continue to prove his level of talent. With his latest performance, Foxx should put serious thought into clearing off some shelf space for a golden statuette and some other accolades in February.
Another standout performance comes from C.J. Sanders, who plays Charles at an even younger age than Foxx. Sanders hits notes that child actors rarely do. He performs in flashbacks as Ray Charles Robinson – a name that Ray was forced to give up because of the popularity of boxing legend “Sugar” Ray Robinson during the same time period. There hasn’t been a performance this good by a youngster since Haley Joel Osment started seeing dead people.
Ray chronicles the musician’s growing popularity and search for his own voice in music, and never shies away from its subject’s less desirable characteristics, like his womanizing and heroin use. As in most bio-pics, however, it fails to capture the entire life of its subject simply because to do so would require a miniseries-length film. There are obvious trims that had to be made to cut it down to a more audience agreeable two and a half hours. If anything, you wish there were more.
For instance, young Ray Robinson’s learning of the piano is cut down to one scene, which takes place before Ray starts to lose his sight.
But drawbacks are few, and you can’t help but feel nitpicky when you’re watching a performance like this. The rags to riches stories may seem cliché, but Ray is such a sincere and honest piece of filmmaking that any platitude is easily overlooked and often times completely unnoticed. Jamie Foxx’s performance is a marvel of modern acting, much in the same vein as Will Smith’s transformation in Ali, but with a more crowd-friendly storyline. Whereas Ali was a cinematic success but a box office failure, Ray looks poised to succeed in both areas and doesn’t have the crippling $100 million budget to overcome.
Starting from the opening scene, Foxx is mesmerizing as he tickles the ivories and lives behind Ray Charles’ trademark sunglasses. There are moments so picture perfect and touching that you forget you’re watching an actor recreate Ray’s story. I dare anyone to try and avoid grinning from ear to ear at Foxx’s character’s reaction when he finds out his first son can see.
Director Taylor Hackford – best known for his films An Officer and a Gentleman and The Devil’s Advocate – is serviceable as a director. While Hackford does not hold the talent of a Scorsese or Spielberg to make a movie better than it deserves to be, he does bring an interesting feel to the movie through float-over shots of newspaper clippings and somewhat excessive year-to-year montages. But best of all is his use of water to show an almost horror movie feel as Ray is haunted by the drowning death of his younger brother.
Like its star, Ray is at its best in drama. Scenes that allow Foxx to show his extensive range, by struggling to overcome heroin addiction and sinking into the skin of Ray Charles, are sure to be Academy recognized in the coming months.
Brian Mulligan can be reached at email@example.com.