The story of Ray Charles Robinson (Jamie Foxx- doing some but not most of the singing, though he does play the piano himself), who overcame blindness, childhood trauma and guilt, and drug addiction to become a musical legend. Kerry Washington, Aunjanue Ellis, and Regina King (the latter with her usual ‘Oh no you didn’t!’ facial expression constantly on show) play his wife, mistress, and more bitter mistress respectively. Clifton Powell plays his well-intentioned manager, Curtis Armstrong (yes, Booger playing an Arab!) and Richard Schiff play generally supportive execs at Atlantic Records, C.J. Sanders plays the young Ray (and does very well), Warwick Davis is a dwarf emcee who treats Ray well but also starts him on drugs, Bokeem Woodbine is the initially hostile but loyal band member who also gets Ray hooked on the harder stuff, and Larenz Tate has a role as acquaintance Quincy Jones, that seems to belong in a different, cheerier movie.
Merely OK Taylor Hackford (“Proof of Life”) biopic from 2004 might’ve worked on TV were it not for the heavy subject matter, and Oscar-winning performance by Foxx that admittedly doesn’t deserve to be relegated to a TV movie treatment. Unfortunately, the screenplay James L. White is pretty bad, never staying long enough on one moment to make us feel anything about Ray himself or his story (what was that whole Georgia incident about?), despite Foxx’s fine work. There’s some interesting moments whilst Ray is struggling with drug addiction, and his early life (Sharon Warren is astounding as Ray’s tough love mother) but it never really gets inside his head on other matters like his career (the first half speeds through various concert performances and the like, making one feel that the film is going somewhere but it never really does) or love life. Having the film end long before Charles himself actually died, doesn’t help, either. The film just stops, like they ran out of film, and whilst I enjoyed individual aspects of it, I’m still not sure what the freakin’ point was. That Ray was a musical legend? Then why give us so much of his less than flattering attributes instead of more scenes with him trying to find his own musical groove? Honesty is a fine thing, but it doesn’t help convey that message here. Was it that he had all these problems but came out OK in the end? Then why stop the film with about twenty years or so to go? And why not beef up the other aspects to give a more accurate view of how Charles overcame his problems? It’s like Hackford and White have bitten off way more than they can chew, a common problem with biopics, and the result is a film that throws out a lot of interesting ideas, characters and events and does bugger all with them. I’m all for an audience having to do a little work, but seriously, what were we meant to make of it all? I felt like re-making the film myself after it was over, it was such a mess.
Very disappointing, but Charles diehards will want to see it, and Foxx is very persuasive (It’s also great to see so many undervalued character actors getting a go here, too, like Armstrong, Schiff, Davis, Woodbine, and the excellent Powell). You certainly won’t be bored, that’s for sure.