"Ray" DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

2/04/2011 Posted by Admin


DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

By Christopher Smith

In “Ray,” the rich, satisfying biography of Ray Charles, which is just out on Blu-ray disc, audiences will be reminded again why Jamie Foxx won the Academy Award for Best Actor as the legendary musician.

As Charles, who died in June at age 73, Foxx transforms himself with a performance that's as startling as it is authentic. It’s beyond imitation. He's so convincing in the role, he makes you believe you’re watching Charles play himself, an uncanny feat of showmanship that's a joy to behold.

As directed by Taylor Hackford from a script he co-wrote with James L. White, the movie’s focus is sweeping. It follows Charles’ bleak childhood in the ‘30s, his rise to fame in the ‘50s and ‘60s, how he first pushed the nation’s buttons by blending gospel music with the sexual rhythms of R&B.

It examines how he was banned from the state of Georgia because he took a stand against segregation, how Mary Ann Fisher (Aunjanue Ellis) and Margie Hendricks (Regina King) became his combative, long-term lovers, and how his shifting tastes in music suited the wandering, hungry aesthetic of a true artist.

The movie follows most biopics in that it’s a bit too packaged for its own good, condensing its subject’s unmanageable life into a manageable whole. Still, if it occasionally feels too neat, such in how it suggests that several of Charles’ most popular songs sprung spontaneously from his arguments with various girlfriends, it never masks the fact that Charles could be a difficult man with flaws as great as his talent.

There’s a fair amount of risk in that, particularly when you’re dealing with an icon as beloved as Ray Charles. Hackford and White know this, but they nevertheless resist hagiography and do the right thing, arguing that had you known Charles intimately, you likely would have had more respect for his body of work than for the man himself.

As excellent as the supporting cast is, what’s essential to the movie’s success is Foxx. The reason he’s so good in “Ray” goes beyond his formidable gifts as an actor. What makes him perfect for the role is how he relates so completely with Charles.

Like the musician, Foxx was raised by a strong Christian woman, he learned to play the piano as a child, and in his youth, he left his small, rural southern town for the bright lights of a big city, where he hoped to start a music career. Those similarities help him build a framework for a performance that’s full-bodied and complex.

Physically, he also nails Charles, from his appearance to his rocking swing at the piano to his defiant, shuffling gate.

In lesser hands, this could have been disastrous—a pantomime of horrors that was all wrong. But Foxx is willing to take risks that transcend the screen, allowing him to present a gifted artist haunted by his share of demons--the childhood death of his brother, which he believes he could have prevented; the loss of his eyesight at age 7; his 20-year addiction to heroin; and his years of philandering, which strained his relationship with wife, Della Bea (Kerry Washington), while producing more children with other women than this film has time to explore.

In the end, what Jamie Foxx has become is the actor his contemporary, Cuba Gooding Jr., has failed to become—polished, intelligent and reliable.  His performance in “Ray” is still something to get excited about.  It is, in fact, what acting is about.

Grade: A

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