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Starring Jamie Foxx
Screenplay by James L. White
from a story by Taylor Hackford and James L. White
Based on the life of Ray Charles
Directed by Taylor Hackford

IN SHORT: IF this film doesn't land -- at minimum -- half a dozen Oscar nominations, we'll buy a hat and eat it. [Rated PG-13 for depiction of Drug Addiction, Sexuality and some Thematic Elements. 152 minutes]

Director Taylor Hackford does his best work, IOHO, on projects with music at their core. He did so withThe Buddy Holly Story. He does so again with the life story of Ray Charles, an even greater feat considering that the private Charles, as seen in this story, is not all that sympathetic character. Hackford's film, which received the star's approval before his death earlier this year, doesn't try to cover up the more unpleasant aspects of Charles' life, including hard core womanizing and extra-marital activity and a decade plus addiction to heroin. It doesn't justify or make excuses for that behavior and it ends at a time when Charles shakes off the bad habits of a lifetime. In between is enough music to make any rock 'n' roll fan, with any kind of appreciation of the music's origins, happy. It is a difficult enough task to condense the man's life into a film's run time -- just when we started wishing it was over, there was only about five or so minutes to go. That's compact for films qualifying for the Oscar race, which Ray does big time.

When first seen, Ray Charles Robinson (C. J. Sanders) is a happy li'l kidlet -- one who doesn't realize what a life of bone crushing poverty is because there is little reference to anything else. Ray's mother, Aretha (Sharon Warren), makes a hard scrabble living as a washer woman. He's got a younger brother, George (Terrone Bell), whose story is important to Ray and one which we'll leave you to discover. All seems well in his small world. By age seven, though, Ray has lost family and his eyesight and is sent to a school for the blind in Florida. There are both physical and psychological reasons for the loss and we are given just a taste of the early traumas. As he is reintroduced as an adult, with Jamie Foxx assuming the role, we see enough to know that Charles' brain and quick wit and phenomenally developed sense of hearing more than compensated for many of the curves Life threw his way. Relocated from Florida to Seattle, a move that isn't explained to the audience, the 18 year old finds lodgings and a place to play through sheer gumption. More remarkable than anything else, as seen this early in the story, is the absolute absence of the usual tools of the trade, so to speak. No cane. No seeing eye dog. No help of any kind save a brain that remembers every step in every direction.

As his career develops, from a bar in Seattle and road work on the old, segregated chitlin' circuit, flashbacks open up the background of the man and three women take their roles in his life. The first is Della Bea (Kerry Washington), his lawful wife. The second is his "on-the-road Mrs. Charles," mistress Margie Hendricks (Regina King), a singer with the band. The third is heroin, a habit that he stoked throughout all the years he was turning out the hits. It is an addiction that is introduced early and which remains in the background all the time, rearing its ugly head when need be.

Even as fame comes a calling, as do Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records (Curtis Armstrong and Richard Schiff), the film story concentrates on the tricky balance of the two wives, so to speak, and the formation of a road family: manager Jeff Brown (Clifton Powell), bandmates Gossie McKee (Terrence Dashon Howard) on guitar and sax man David "Fathead"Newman (Bokeem Woodbine). If you want further stories about the road crew, read the autobiography. Hackford keeps his focus on the two things driving Ray's career: his career and its effect on the women in his life, and a continuing battle against segregation. First, breaking down the format boundaries of American radio. Second, bringing down mandated segregation of concert halls in Georgia and, by extension, across the South. We'll let other critics complain about what was left out. The material seen here presents a darn good story all in itself.

Which leaves three remarkable and outstanding performances to comment on. Jamie Foxx is first, of course. If he hadn't managed to "create" a believable character from the word go the film would be lost. Within a minute, in the very first scene, the feat is accomplished. Second up is Regina King's powerful work as the mistress who considered herself just as much a wife as the one with the legal papers. The loudest huzzah goes to newcomer Sharon Warren as mom Aretha. It is the kind of performance that would lock up a statue for any pro actor. This is the first time we've seen Warren on screen. Her credits show only two stage performances. Taylor Hackford has always shown the ability to find incredible new talent and he delivers brilliantly here. While his decision to pick one significant event from each succeeding year in this story could open (himself) up to the criticism of piecemeal-ing the story, the overreaching story arc of his script -- apologies for writing like a film student -- works beautifully, encapsulating the post WWII years through, roughly, 1964 and ending in the 1970s on a more political note, referenced above.

The most impressive thing? Hackford comes nowhere near the three hour plus run time we've come to expect on major stories like this one. For that we thank him. As well, the soundtrack of the film absolutely smokes (but we don't have to tell anyone old enough to know the music about that).

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Ray, he would have paid . . .


BECAUSE YOU SHOULD KNOW: Those who have read the History of Cranky know that our neck was broken in a traffic accident in 1988. Our first job, after six years of physical rehab, was working on Taylor Hackford's film Bound by Honor. We'll always be grateful to Hackford, and to his unit publicist Katherine Moore for the break. It doesn't affect how we rate his films, as all concerned know, but we don't want anyone suggesting the same. And that's what we say.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.