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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo by Nicola Goode)

photo caption:
HOW DO YOU CONSOLE A YOUNG BOY WHO IS GOING BLIND?: Aretha Robinson (Sharon Warren, left) tries to help young Ray (C.J. Sanders) understand what is happening to his failing eyesight and how he can overcome the obstacles presented by this traumatic event.
end caption.

"Ray" Jamie Foxx Delivers Oscar-Worthy Performance as the Incomparable Ray Charles

Review by Kam Williams

Ray Charles Robinson was born in the tiny town of Albany, Georgia on September 23, 1930 to sharecroppers struggling to make ends meet at the height of the Great Depression. Despite becoming blind at the age of six and being orphaned while still in his teens, Ray would rise from his humble origins and overcome a host of hardships and personal failings to forge an enduring musical career spanning more than a half century. When he died on June 10th this year, he was a much-beloved national treasure, leaving behind a collection of classics and a legacy as a man who'd achieved the American Dream against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Writer/director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman) recognized the cinematic potential of Ray's biography after meeting him back in 1987. As the Oscar-winner recounts, "My God, I never had any idea. I did not realize how he went blind, how he traveled on a Greyhound bus from Northern Florida to Seattle, how he got off that bus as a blind man on his own, experienced discrimination, addiction, and sorrow, and yet found his way to become an incomparable artist. I thought, 'This man's story must be told.'"

So, for more than fifteen years, Hackford devoted himself to making this biopic, working closely with the aging icon who willingly shared his intimate feelings on subjects such as watching his younger brother drown, never relying on a cane or a seeing-eye dog, decades of heroin addiction, and his reaction to the sting of the segregated South. Ray, a multi-generational costume drama has now opened in movie theaters.

Jamie Foxx's transformation into the title character is amazing. It is a cinematic treat to observe how he meets the challenge of presenting a fresh interpretation of an already familiar cultural figure without relying on cliches.

The rest of the cast includes Sharon Warren as his mother, Aretha; Kerry Washington as his wife, Della; Regina King as his fiery mistress, Raelette Margie Hendricks; Bokeem Woodbine as fellow junkie/saxophonist David Fathead Newman; Larenz Tate as Quincy Jones; and Curtis "Booger" Armstrong as Atlantic Records producer Ahmet Ertegun. Other support roles feature familiar faces such as Aunjanue Ellis, Clifton Powell, Richard Schiff, and Terence Howard.

The story traces Ray's life from birth through the late sixties, with a poignant postscript in 1979, when Georgia on My Mind was declared the state song of Georgia. This and other hits have been woven so imperceptibly into the plot that the musical breaks are never noticed. With Foxx lip-synching, the film, of course, features haunting refrains from a selection of Ray's tunes. There's Hit the Road, Jack, Drown in My Own Tears, Unchain My Heart and I Can't Stop Loving You, to name a few.

Because Ray Charles insisted that the picture not sanitize any of the unfortunate aspects of his life, the movie is a powerful emotional experience which will inform, entertain, and uplift audiences. Not to be missed.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated PG-13 for sexuality, drug addiction, and adult themes. Running time: 152 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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