The most amazing thing about Jamie Foxx‘s performance in Ray is how when the real Ray Charles appears briefly on screen toward the end of the movie, there is no jarring disconnect with the rest of the picture. Foxx has Charles’s vocal mannerisms down so perfectly that, when asked to lip-synch to the real performer’s recordings, it is seamless.

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As a film, Ray sticks to many conventions of the standard biopic while avoiding the more lethal clichés. It follows 20 years of Charles’s life, from his first gigs after moving to Seattle in 1947 until he kicks his heroin habit in 1966. One of the oldest (and least savory) clichés in musical biopics is the black musician exploited by white record executives (who are usually Jewish in these stories). Ray turns this on its head when Ahmet Ertegun (Curtis Armstrong) and Jerry Wexler (Richard Schiff), loyal champions of Ray Charles, the musician, are blindsided by Ray Charles, the businessman, leaving Atlantic Records for a lucrative contract that give him more control of his career than even Frank Sinatra had.


The film steers clear of being a hagiography, portraying not only the legendary musician’s womanizing and drug use but also his occasionally ruthless “me first” business practices. Charles was not afraid to leave people by the side of the road when they were no longer useful to him. His hard-nosed approach to business seems to stem from his experiences with people taking advantage of his blindness to cheat him early in his career.

By covering almost the entirety of Charles’s most creative period, the film is able to chart his evolution from imitator to innovator. The fusion of gospel with rhythm and blues seems so obvious now it’s hard to believe how scandalous it was when Charles first created the sound. Ray portrays Charles as someone who fearlessly went wherever he felt like musically, and didn’t worry about whether or not his audience would follow. Of course, at this point, he was so rich, he couldn’t care less if they followed or not.

As controlled and controlling as Charles could be in music and business, he could not seem to control his compulsion for women and his addiction to drugs. Like business partners, women are often discarded if they no longer please him, which seems to happen the moment they start demanding to be the only woman in his life. If anyone comes across as saintly in this movie, it would have to be his wife, Della (Kerry Washington), who stands by her man far past the point that most women would have packed up and left. In short, she’s so enamored of Ray Charles, the musician, that she’s willing to put up with Ray Charles, the womanizing junkie, up to a point.

That point comes when Charles is facing federal drug charges that threaten to destroy his entire career. Della makes it clear that if he throws away his music for the heroin, he’ll be throwing her away too. That convinces Charles to enter rehab and kick his addiction. The harrowing, nightmarish scenes of Ray in the throes of the withdrawal give way to maudlin, mawkish hallucination/dream sequence that’s so out of kilter with the rest of the movie that it almost derails the whole movie. Fortunately, the film has been strong enough to earn, if not the right to such a scene, then at least our forgiveness for it.

If there is downside to this movie, it’s how it whitewashes the less exemplary episodes of Charles’s later career, specifically his concert appearance in South Africa in 1981, thumbing his nose at the anti-apartheid boycott in the name of a big paycheck, which undermined the goodwill he’d earned in 1961 by the refusing to play a segregated show in his native Georgia. While this film doesn’t cover that part of his career, I think this film would have been a little more honest if it had mentioned this element along with praising Charles during the end credits for his quite generous support of civil rights causes during his career. As a contradiction, these two elements are pure Ray Charles.

2 thoughts on “Ray

  1. Christopher55

    My problem with Ray was the same I had with The Aviator. Way too long and it felt as if certain aspects of Ray’s story was being repeated and repeated. It became tedious and boring. The acting however, especially by Foxx, was outstanding. You believed.

  2. Susu.ro

    This is one of the best movies I have seen in years. I took me to a new time and place. It was as though I was right there with Ray through his many trials and triumphs. Jamie Foxx transformed himself into Ray. During the movie he was Ray. Also, Kerry Washington, Sharon Robinson and Regina King were superb. The movie was well cast and directed, the music was fantastic.

    I’ve seen the movie four (4) times with different people and the last time was just as enjoyable as the first time. I will buy the DVD as soon as it is released. This is a movie that will viewed over and over for years to come.


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