Review: Ray (2004)

Peak biopic?

After “Malcolm X“, as far as biographical dramas go, where do you go from here? (“Man on the Moon”, perhaps?)

Beyond being artfully made and beautifully stylised, “Ray” also benefits palpably from a miraculous alignment of material, cast and crew, and the collision of its stars: the gifted Jamie Foxx, whom it seems was born to play this role, and Ray Charles himself, who was closely involved with the project right up until his death. Charles’ candour not only allowed for a more rounded, and therefore not-always-flattering, portrayal of his character; he also pushed Jamie Foxx beyond impression and toward something equally rounded and genuine – from the nuances of his acting, to his abilities as a musician:

This is peak biopic – and it’s easy to see why Jamie Foxx let it get to his head at the time. Foxx has recounted his own behaviour in interviews over the years since the film’s release:

But the performances are great all round – Regina Hall, Kerry Washington, Bokeem Woodbine, Richard Schiff… I mean really, how can you go wrong?Through the stunning lens of cinematographer Pawel Edelman, director Taylor Hackford takes us through the span of a remarkable life in a movie that never feels overstuffed or superficial.┬áMy only wish (and I mean really, given the accomplishment of this film, this minor point is really just a personal thing, as a fan of this particular music tradition) is that the film had somehow (and I really have no idea how it could have) more clearly conveyed the gravity of the culturally transgressive moment that was Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman”. To cross the aisle from spiritual to secular black music at that time was just as controversial, if not moreso, than Madonna in the ’80s, Marilyn Manson in the ’90s, or… I’m struggling to think of anyone as world-shaking in popular music since. But then, Charles crossed so many lines, pioneered so much cultural change, overcame so much adversity, and the film at least feels like it did him justice – in ways that biopics rarely do, particularly ones in which the family or estate of their subjects participate, whose bias and rose-tinting often flatten (or hyper-dramatise) portrayals and storytelling. In that context, “Ray” is a miracle.