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Foxx shines in biopic of R&B legend

Becca Saunders | Monday, November 8, 2004

Many people know little more about Ray Charles beyond a vague picture of a blind, African-American man playing the piano with sunglasses on. At least that is all many think they know about Ray Charles. As it turns out, it would be nearly impossible for most people not to know most of his songs word for word. Charles’ music is the backdrop for much of the American society; from commercials to state songs, every American knows Ray Charles. And at this point of knowledge, the truth is, many are unaware of his illustrious life as a singer, songwriter, pianist, father, friend, husband, heroine addict and playboy. All these things come to life in the film “Ray,” a biographical journey of Charles’ life. The film does not hide much or attempt to make the famous musicians life look pretty or even very nice. “Ray” gets into the heavy muck of his life, focusing a great deal on his heroine addiction and consistent philandering. The film elicits anger, then love, and then compassion from the audience as they watch Charles becomes a legend.The film begins with a young Ray in his mid-twenties at the outset of his career. With flashbacks to his childhood, mostly focused on the death of his little brother that Ray himself witnessed, the film continues through Charles’ life through the end of his heroine addiction. Charles literally penetrates the senses of the audience, with the movie set to the background music of all Charles’ big hits. Fittingly for the story of a blind musician, it is Charles’ music that dominates the energy of the film, carrying him from era to era of his life. The cast of “Ray” is nothing sort of terrific, with the most notable performance given by Jamie Foxx in his portrayal of Charles. Foxx, who is better known for his comedic work of much lower caliber, is simply incredible. When the film ends, it is shocking to realize that the character being watched was footage of Charles himself, but Foxx who mastered every nuance of Charles. From the self-hug, to the manner of speaking, to the very specific way Charles throws his head back while he’s playing passionately, Foxx mastered it all. Foxx actually played the part with his eyes sealed shut, although the producers had originally thought the actor chosen to play Charles would simply wear the sunglasses with his eyes open. Foxx refused to play Charles with sight, as it just did not feel right. The result of Foxx’s many decisions and careful study of the musician results in an Oscar level performance. The rest of the cast is terrific as well, carrying their weight next to such a heavy performance by Foxx. Although Charles recently died, he did see the film before his death and spent time with Foxx while Foxx was preparing to play the role. However, he was not around much during the actual filming of “Ray.” An incredible film, with incredible acting, “Ray” is easily the best movie of the year, and a definite must see.