Ray

There are two broad schools of biographical pictures: Those that use their subjects as a means to explore larger issues — think NIXON (1995) or THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996) — and those whose primary interest is recounting the person's life story, point by point. Taylor Hackford's entertaining but cursory film about musical legend Ray Charles fits...read more

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Reviewed by Ethan Alter
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There are two broad schools of biographical pictures: Those that use their subjects as a means to explore larger issues — think NIXON (1995) or THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996) — and those whose primary interest is recounting the person's life story, point by point. Taylor Hackford's entertaining but cursory film about musical legend Ray Charles fits squarely into the latter category. Spanning almost 20 years, it follows Charles' rise to the top of the music charts and the personal problems that bedevil him en route. It begins in 1948, as 17-year-old Ray Robinson (Jamie Foxx) stands at a bus stop, waiting for the Greyhound that will take him to Seattle, where a friend has promised him a tryout at a local watering hole. Naturally, when the blind boy from Alabama first takes the stage, the audience assumes it's a joke. But then he tears into a Nat King Cole number that silences the jeers. Ray becomes a fixture at the club and is soon noticed by a record producer, who signs him to a recording contract and puts him on the road with a traveling band. It's on one of these trips that Ray first experiments with heroin, an addiction with which he subsequently wrestles for years. Tired of touring, Ray moves to New York City and meets Atlantic Records executive Ahmet Ertegun (Curtis Armstrong), who encourages the musician to develop his own style. One of Ray's first records under Ertegun's influence, "I Got a Woman," becomes an instant success even as it incites outrage for its melding of gospel and R&B. From there, Ray produces one hit song after another, including the timeless "Georgia on My Mind." But his offstage life isn't quite as rosy; Ray's constant touring puts a strain on his marriage to patient wife Della (Kerry Washington), as does his affair with backup singer Margie (Regina King). He's also haunted by memories of his difficult childhood, including the death of his younger brother. At two-and-a-half hours, the movie could have used some trimming, but for the most part Ray's story is briskly told. In fact, for all the ground it covers, the movie feels curiously sketchy, rushing from event to event so rapidly that the characters get lost along the way. Its musical sequences are guaranteed crowd-pleasers, the flashbacks to Ray's childhood pack a potent dramatic punch and Hackford deserves credit for not shying away from the darker aspects of Charles' life. Ultimately, the real reason to see the film is for Foxx's world-caliber performance: He doesn't just impersonate Charles, he actually seems to be channeling him. He's the one standout in an otherwise overcrowded film.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: There are two broad schools of biographical pictures: Those that use their subjects as a means to explore larger issues — think NIXON (1995) or THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996) — and those whose primary interest is recounting the person's life story, poin… (more)

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