As Ray Charles in the Universal Picture “Ray,” Jamie Foxx delivers a heartful, nearly impeccable performance. I doubt there is an actor in Hollywood who could have executed finer work in the channeled role, and for those actors who currently feel, as Foxx probably felt, pigeonholed into the comedic genre, he proves that getting out is as easy as getting busy. In “Collateral” with Tom Cruise and now on his own in this remarkable biopic, Foxx has redefined himself as a leading man – and may with this role have his first Oscar nod. As Ray Charles, he offers up a poignant, deft recreation of the life of the musical genius… from the onset of his blindness at age 7 to his life-long struggle with heroin and the impact it had on his family and career.
A shame, then, that this biopic – directed by “An Officer and a Gentleman’s” Taylor Hackford, is so over-long… and overwrought. Brilliant acting is trundled under the needlessly exhaustive – and exhausting – 2 ½ hour film which starts out well, but then falls into the entrenched paths of just about every other musical biopic Hollywood has produced. And it never quite recovers.
The story begins when Ray Charles is growing up in a poor town in Georgia, and as we follow the progression of his life, flashbacks take him – with us in tow – back to the experiences that collectively formed his determined business acumen. Surrounding Ray is a bevy of beautiful women: among them Kerry Washington as Della Charles, Regina King as the Ray-lette Regina King, and Sharon Warren as Ray’s mother. All three turn in blazing work, collectively generating the push/pull forces that both enlivened Charles’ life and caused him emotional torment.
But then, the problem with this movie is not its performances. This is territory we’ve walked with Tina Turner (“What’s Love Got To Do With It”) among others, and aside from the visionary early sequences between Ray and his mother, Hackford has followed the established pattern of star rising/star falling/star rising without deviation or invention. The music is sensational – it’s Ray Charles, after all – and some of the montage sequences provide toe-tapping energy… but taken on the whole, the majority of the movie meanders sleepily towards its lackadaisical conclusion without a significant spine.
There’s already talk of “Ray” being aligned for a “Best Movie” nod… mostly heralded by critics and fans who applaud Foxx’s acting. But even his work is not unexpected; he has forged a comic career out of imitation, and was given – surprisingly enough – more depth in “Collateral” than he was in this picture. As a fan of the medium, I’d rather watch a picture that’s important… not self-important.