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RAY (article first published : 2005-02-21)

Director Taylor Hackford paints a handsome and loving portrait of music icon Ray Charles in the Oscar-nominated Ray but, somewhat disappointingly, hugs the safe and overly-familiar Hollywood rags-to-riches stylistic formula a little too closely.

He also tends to skip too hastily over some of Charles's classic songs (some of which you might be surprised to know were associated with the icon) while lingering too long on other periods of his musical career. But what a career. Charles was a stellar talent and innovator who melded gospel and rhythm and blues, dipped into country and jazz and funk, and continually explored new channels for his music.

He also had a savvy business sense, developed when he was a struggling muso who, to avoid being ripped off by anyone keen to take advantage of his loss of sight, always demanded to be paid in single dollar bills. Later he became the first recording artist to demand he own his own masters.

Hackford also focuses on the legend's flaws, albeit in a non-judgmental way. The musician is shown here as a womaniser of note, which his long-suffering wife, Della Bea (Kerry Washington) simply resigned herself to accepting. And he was a habitual drug-user, which he used to try to wipe away demons he'd been stuck with since a boy, when he witnessed the horrific death of his younger brother and developed the illness which slowly turned him blind.

Jamie Foxx's performance as the sightless legend is as superb as everyone's been saying and my money is on him taking home this year's Academy Award statuette for best actor. He has also been nominated for his stellar supporting performance in Michael Mann's Collateral.

The physical resemblance he has with the young Charles is quite uncanny and the actor, who lip-synchs to Charles's singing voice, has down pat the musician's mannerisms - the rocking head at the piano, the limp, the lingering grin coupled with the clasped-arm sway Charles used to acknowledge audience appreciation.

To be frank, Foxx's performance is better than the film itself which, while always interesting, is a little longwinded and, it must be said, competent rather than outstanding. This considered, it really shouldn't be in the running for a Best Picture Oscar. But it does remain well worth seeing, offering an intriguing true tale, some terrific music and that powerhouse performance. My rating: 8/10. Billy Suter




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