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Directed by Taylor Hackford ("An Officer and a Gentleman").
Written by James L. White.
Starring Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Bokeem Woodbine and Regina King.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  11/8/04


That Ray Charles...what a bastard!

Whether that's the intended goal of a project like this or not is tough to say, but I would have to guess that Taylor Hackford, who crafted this biography of the R&B/gospel/pop/country legend, could have imagined that folks like me would have left the theater with a bad taste in my mouth about a man that I only had reason to love prior to watching the film "Ray."

But having seen it, I must say that my perception of the man has changed a bit.  Jamie Foxx stars as Charles, as he goes from bouncing around in the South playing for chump change to heading west, where he hooks up with a band that ultimately gets the ball rolling on one of the most successful singing careers on record.  All the while, we get the "Behind the Music" version of Charles' life, from the record deals to the women to the drugs to the cash-money.  There's the woman that he falls in love with and eventually marries, Bea (Kerry Washington), only to spend time on the road with a plethora of other women.  There's the scheming lounge manager that nearly robs Ray...blind, all the while milking not only Ray's musical talents but also his bedside manner.  There's the heroin addiction.  There's the troubled past.  There's Ray's tendency to dump the very people that came up with him on the road to success.

There's so much, in fact, that Hackford squeezes into his 150-minute film that you leave having a great understanding of what it might be like to be blind and pursue a singing career, or to be a crossover hit that never sells out, or to father 12 children through...jeez, I don't even know how many women.  The great thing about watching the credits all the way through was that they tell you that Ray is survived by 12 kids and 21 grandchildren, and when you realize that only two of those kids seem to be of his wife's Bea, you think,

"Damn, that Ray cat got around on the tour bus!!"

And, it certainly looks like he did!  You come away from all of this judging the man, not the legend, which I think is a testament to how good "Ray" is.  I got into these characters in a way that most biographical films never allow, plus the mix of the music plus Ray's struggles with his blindness make for a great ride, no question about it.  Foxx is central to the film's fortunes and he shines in almost every way; his nomination next year for an Oscar is all but guaranteed with this kind of performance and you just love watching the guy work all film long, bastard or not.  Parts like the ones played by some of Ray's women, like Mary Ann Fisher (Aunjanue Ellis, from "Undercover Brother") and Margie (veteran character actress Regina King), just give the whole production a solid, decidedly un-star-studded base of performers that make even the most minimal of scenes of a certain quality.  I even soaked up the fact that "Ray" takes place in a time of fairly-heightened racial tension...but Hackford takes the racism to very minimalist, subtle heights (if that makes sense) by mostly laying it in the background, as if to say "Hey, it's 1958, for chrissakes; you figure it out", letting the story work around that time of American life as opposed to making every white person in the world out to be a member-in-training with the Klan.  Nice touch.

The film is great and, as imagined, the soundtrack and musical performances (both the acting and the singing) are amazing.  "Ray" has its flaws, chief among them a fairly-long sit, bad kid actors in the role of Ray and his little brother, and a tendency to not take long enough in the right moments, like during moments when Ray is hangin' out with his first major-label producers, Ahmet (Curtis Armstrong) and Jerry Wexler (Richard Schiff).  I would have liked more about the record dealings that Ray had to go through, and maybe not as many scenes with Ray working on all of the women hangin' around his tour.  Scenes that help explain how tough it might be to be blind are just a little abbreviated for me; those sequences were the most harrowing for me, because I can still never comprehend what it takes for a blind person to go through a day in a brand-new environment, and I thought this could have been a major nugget for "Ray."

But, it didn't work out that way, and as it is, this is a great movie driven by a mix of great music and a solid lead performance.  See it.  Now!

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09