From his days banging out hit after hit to his turbulent domestic life and reoccurring drug problems, Ray Charles Robinson’s journey is truly inspiring. His original, albeit controversial, idea to mix the easy listening sounds of rhythm and blues with gospel sounds of the church had a significant impact on the R&B industry of today. This style, coupled with his legendary piano playing and a unique voice, made Charles’ songs some of the most innovative music ever recorded.
Today, the ever-maturing Jamie Foxx pays homage to this American legend as the star of “Ray” (Universal), director Taylor Hackford’s brilliant recreation of the artist’s life. Beginning with Charles’ departure from his home in the South, Hackford does an excellent job showing his audience what made this legend such a global success. From the portrayal of Charles’ infant brother’s death to the overwhelming guilt he experiences as a result, Hackford doesn’t miss a single significant event in Charles’ epic journey. The film includes stories of drug abuse and infidelity, as well as the people, places and events that influenced his music.
Hackford tried to create this film 15 years ago. However, he was unable to acquire the funding he felt was needed. Hackford told The Hatchet he believed the life of Ray Charles was so epic that a larger-than-life film would be the only way to do justice to his story. When asked whether or not it was worth the wait, Hackford said “absolutely,” and that he would not have access to Foxx’s talent 15 years ago.
In this film, Foxx steps out of his role as comedian to show the world his talents as a serious actor; he seemed to be the ideal man for this job. His impersonation of the blind Charles nears perfection throughout the entire film, nailing Charles’ jerky mannerisms, low-pitched voice and brilliantly tenacious attitude. However, this imitation didn’t come without some hard work. Foxx told The Hatchet that not only did he take Braille classes to help prepare for this film, but he also walked around the set with his eyes shut for 12 to 14 hours a day to get the feeling of playing a blind man. Yet, as hard as this work may have been, it is rumored that his preparation may pay off in February, with a large amount of Oscar buzz surrounding Foxx’s outstanding performance.
Cinematically, Hackford had an interesting way of displaying the events of Charles’ life. “I wanted to give this film more of a movie feel than a documentary one,” Hackford told The Hatchet. “I believe too often in biopic films, the events monotonously go in chronological order. I didn’t want that for this film.”
However, this idea translated into a series of seemingly random flashbacks intended to give viewers a background into the childhood of Ray Charles. At times the flashbacks seemed somewhat out of place and at times unrelated to topics discussed in the foreground. This was the only aspect that brought the movie down. Hackford’s use of music throughout the film was enough to keep audiences interested.
“Ray” opens in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 29.