What could be more wonderful than witnessing genius ignited by genius? The answer to that rhetorical question is found in actor/comedian Jamie Foxx’s remarkable portrayal of the late music icon, Ray Charles, in “Ray.”
Directed by Taylor Hackford (“Officer and a Gentleman”), “Ray” is almost certain to send Foxx home one night next February with an Oscar. It’s a performance that goes far beyond impersonation and deep into the soul of the musical genius who put his all into every note he sang and created. While “Ray” deals with Charles’ drug dependency and compulsive adultery, its greatest strength is presenting the magic, sexuality and exuberance of the maestro’s songs. We learn that the hit, “What’d I Say,” was a live improvisation born because Charles and his band ran out of material at the end of a night-club gig. Or, that “Hit the Road, Jack” was manufactured in a hotel room as Charles and Raylette Regina King (Margie Hendricks) were having a spat.
Regardless of their back-stories, the songs themselves are sheer electricity. It’s easy to see why, in the ‘50’s, many fear that Charles is opening the door to the Devil with his fiery fusing of gospel music with rhythm and blues. Then, rolling with a slew of soul hits, Charles crosses markets by writing and recording high quality country singles (“Georgia on My Mind,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You”). His genius appears to have no limits.
However, in his two-and-a-half-hour epic, Hackford never paints his subject as a saint. Charles is sharp business man, obsessed with his art, but largely neglectful of his children and beleaguered wife, Bea (Kerry Washington), while willing to sink the knife into longtime friendships for money.
Blind at age 7, Charles suffers unrelenting guilt because of his failure to save his baby brother from drowning in a washtub outside his childhood shanty house in dirt-poor ‘30’s Florida. The pain fuels his music, but also his heroin addiction, which leads to arrests and a brutal rehabilitation.
While much of the James L, White script is standard bio-pic stuff, Foxx and the music make “Ray’ something extraordinary. You’ll leave the theater with memory of Ray Charles forever on your mind.