At a little over two hours long, Ray is a whopper of a movie. It is a typical “music film,” focusing on women, drugs and fame. However, what sets Ray apart is the elusive subject itself: the life of a beloved but reclusive performer. Ray focuses on the genius of Ray Charles Robinson at a time when he was the only pop star taking risks.
Ray begins with the main character leaving Tampa for Seattle to start his music career. The film follows his rising fame, his drug addiction and life on the road. It also chronicles his marriage to Della Bea and the mistresses he kept on the side. His life as an adult is often interrupted by flashbacks and hallucinations; his past is haunting him. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that music is his first love, for he pushes his loved ones away as his popularity grows.
The buzz surrounding Ray is due to Jaime Foxx’s portrayal of the late singer. Though sometimes over the top, Foxx is impressive as the blind singer. From the physical mannerisms to the soft voice, it is often possible to forget Foxx was an actor imitating Charles. He also brought a hint of comedy to the role, throwing out one-liners without detracting from the story.
The film’s supporting roles were filled by Kerry Washington as Della Bea, Clifton Powell as Ray’s friend and assistant, Jeff Brown, and Bokeem Woodbine as band member Fathead Newman. The characters add to the story, serving as a point of reference as Ray moves away from his friends and becomes a part of pop culture.
With the sudden insurgence of films with longer run times, Ray was just too long. The movie didn’t drag, but at times became numbing. There was too much melodrama and too many elements borrowed from other movie genres. At times, the film was a dramedy with suspense that bordered on horror. This made Ray seem muddled.
Adding to the confusion are the numerous recurring flashbacks Ray suffers. The constant visions are directly related to the personal tragedy that occurred when he was a boy. These scenes are simply overly dramatic. Their saving grace is Sharon Warren, who steals these scenes as Ray’s mother.
Ray is this season’s answer to the epic film. It has the talent, budget and story to be a blockbuster. Ray brilliantly showcases the evolution of Charles’ unique blend of R&B and pop and the risks he took in order to control his own career. At times, there is too much to take in. However, older audiences who remember Charles will surely love this film.