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April 19, 2020

Ray (2004)
Director: Taylor Hackford
Actors: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King

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Synopsis: The life and career of the great American singer and pianist, Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx).

Review: Exemplar of the musical biopic that became de rigueur in Hollywood in the mid-’00s – think Walk the Line and Dreamgirls, and the John C. Reilly-starring spoof of said genre, Walk Hard – Taylor Hackford’s Ray is worthwhile enough as a whistlestop tour through the life and music of jazz-soul legend Ray Charles, but to say it fails to transcend its functional remit would be to state the bleedin’ obvious.

It’s hard to think of a more artless film depicting such a talented artist, and director Taylor Hackford struggles to find any visual way to imprint the ethos of Charles, the musician, on the film. Even Jamie Foxx’s performance conforms to type. It is a supreme impersonation, but that’s all it is. It only goes skin deep and fails to generate any real pathos for his character – that, in spite of the epically dramatic raw materials of Charles’ life.

There’s probably only one scene that breaks free from the stranglehold of convention, and that is when a flashback depicts Charles’ mother using ‘hard love’ by testing his younger self to make his own way around the house by relying on his other senses soon after he has become blind. It has a meditative, sensory tone, and taps into potentially richer territory suggesting how blindness may have galvanised Charles’ potential to become a great pianist by fortifying those other senses. Sadly, it only stands out because it’s something thoughtful and distinctive in an otherwise generic confection. (April 2020)

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