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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Ray (2004)

"I'm trying to do something ain't nobody ever done in music and business."
- Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: February 07, 2005

Stars: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terrence Dashon Howard, Larenz Tate, Richard Schiff, Regina King
Director: Taylor Hackford

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for depiction of drug addiction, sexuality and some thematic elements
Run Time: 02h:32m:17s
Release Date: February 01, 2005
UPC: 025192594427
Genre: r-b


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-A-A- B-

DVD Review

Movie biographies, for well-known figures especially, present a particular sort of challenge, because our lives are messy, and annoyingly do not cohere to classic Aristotelian three-act structure. Some films are terrific at finding the theme in the lifeÑCoal Miner's Daughter and Raging Bull come immediately to mindÑwhile others play out more like book reports: this happened, then this happened, then that happened. (Yes, Richard Attenborough, I'm talking about you.) Ray is certainly a creditable movie biography from a year that's full of them (cf. Kinsey, Finding Neverland, The Aviator), and it's got a couple of particular virtues that make it a handsome and tuneful ride.

The first of these, no doubt, is the music of Ray Charles; he was dubbed a genius relatively early in his career, and produced a body of work that lived up to that lofty designation. If ever a movie had a golden opportunity for a soundtrack built into it, it's this one, and it doesn't disappoint: Charles' music remains as stirring and soulful as when it was first put to wax, and if you're not tapping your toes or thinking about dancing when his tunes come on, there's something wrong with you.

Jamie Foxx has been lauded with praise for his performance as Charles, and he comes by it rightfully: this is an uncanny capturing of the essence of the man, not some overly sentimentalized or cartoony version of a public figure as widely known in his time as any. Foxx doesn't give in to the maudlin pitfalls here, either, and no doubt that's because in his time Charles didn't—Ray Charles lost his sight as a boy, but he didn't use his blindness to elicit pity or special favors. (He'd probably take the very suggestion as an insult.) Foxx has grown in recent years from a genuinely funny though limited television actor into a commanding screen presence; even though the story denies us a look at his eyes, the window into the soul, his Ray Charles is a mesmerizing, charismatic figure, and Foxx and director Taylor Hackford don't shy away from the darker colors, either.

Hackford deserves praise particularly for his evocation of time and place—his movie pulses with the energy of the late 1950s and early 1960s, as America's racial politics frequently got played out in the realm of popular music. Charles' own participation was crucial to the success of the project; unfortunately, he passed away before the release of the film, but much of it is informed by an authenticity that could only come from those who were there back in the day. (Also turning in stellar work here is production designer Stephen Altman, whose sets are true to the period and frequently drop-dead gorgeous.)

I don't know how well the movie coheres as a drama, though; it shows us Ray facing down two personal demons, and they're interrelated. The first was the drowning of his brother George when both Ray and George were boys; at the time, Ray still had his sight, and the image of his brother drowned in a washing basin had to have haunted him for decades. The other, getting more screen time, concerns Ray's battles with heroin. The movie doesn't shy away from showing us the great musician shooting up, nor from demonstrating the personal toll that his addiction took on Charles and his family; and yet of course this movie doesn't want to be The Man with the Golden Arm, or something, and it shouldn't be. Charles' musical talent was prodigious, and the movie is at its best showing us how Charles found his own sound: he had an extraordinary gift for musical mimicry, and early on fashioned himself very much in the mold of Nat King Cole. The necessary breakthrough comes when Charles fuses gospel music to the rhythm and blues he's been playing; this melding of Saturday night and Sunday morning gave Charles' best music the deeply felt, bluesy, spiritual and often frankly sexual feel that became his trademark. But to many, in the African-American community especially, this was heresy: you simply didn't sully God's music with the devil's. It's a musical battle of ideas that gets played out particularly in Charles' marriage, to Della Bea, a gospel singer; of course these fights become proxies for what else isn't quite right at home, that being principally Charles' drug habit and frequent and flagrant infidelities.

Hackford shows us the birth of some of Charles' best-known songs—sometimes this works, as when Ray and his band more or less invent What'd I Say on the spot, vamping to pad out a performance, necessary to meet the terms of their contract; at other times it seems a little forced, such as when Ray's romance with one of the Raelettes sours, leading to Hit the Road, Jack. Foxx has a stellar cast supporting him—Kerry Washington brings just the right mixture of tenderness and fury to her performance as Bea, and Aunjanue Ellis is especially good as one of Ray's spurned lovers. There are occasional flashes of other aspects of Charles' life and work—as a sometime absentee father, as an active participant in the civil rights movement—but the strongest and most memorable scenes in the film show us Charles (and Foxx, and Hackford, and all the assembled talent) doing what they do best: ripping through some of the best recordings ever made, in a film that pays its respects to a man who earned the right to be called a genius.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The lighting scheme is occasionally overdone—there are more than few shots of Charles at the piano, with the light streaming down from above, making him look like a blues angel out of Cimabue—but this is a strong transfer, with only occasional bits of debris evident.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: A lush, strong 5.1 track—some of the dialogue at low levels can be a bit mumbly, but the music sounds glorious. There's no reason (other than your neighbors) not to crank this one up.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Cinderella Man, Friday Night Lights, Motorcycle Diaries, Vanity Fair
14 Deleted Scenes
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Taylor Hackford
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. extended cut of the feature (see below)
  2. commentary by Hackford for the deleted scenes
  3. two extended musical sequences
Extras Review: The feature is on the first disc of this two-DVD set, and offers the option to watch either the original theatrical cut of the film, or an extended version, with fourteen deleted scenes and two extended musical numbers. (Two little musical notes appear on the lower right hand corner of the screen when you're about to leave the original cut and watch a deleted scene.) All the cut bits add some flavor, but you can see why they ended up as part of the supplement package, and not in the final print; it's a long movie as it is (over two and a half hours), and pushing it out another thirty minutes might have been overdoing it. If you prefer to watch the theatrical cut first and the deleted scenes afterward, you can find them (27m:44s) on the second disc, along with the extended versions of What Kind of Man Are You? (03m:10s) and Hit the Road, Jack (01m:18s).

Hackford provides a commentary track that sorts out a lot of questions: what's factual, what's apocryphal, what's been compressed for dramatic purposes. He had this project in development for nearly fifteen years, and it was clearly a labor of love for him; he also wisely takes time to praise his crew for their efforts on the production. On the first disc, Hackford's commentary track can be heard over the theatrical cut only, not the extended one; he also provides commentary on the second disc for the deleted scenes. The first disc also has brief bios and filmographies for 12 cast members, Hackford, the producers and the screenwriter.

Also on the second disc is a look at Foxx Stepping into the Part (10m:41s), featuring the actor goofing around with Ray Charles in a music studio in 2002, along with comments from Hackford and Ray Charles Robinson, Jr., Ray Charles' son and a co-producer on the picture; Ray Remembered (04m:03s), a tribute from colleagues, including Quincy Jones and Al Green; and, very briefly, A Look Inside Ray (03m:21s), featuring Hackford and clips from the feature.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

A respectful, gutty, thoroughly entertaining biography, with some of the best music ever recorded, and a transfixing performance by Jamie Foxx in the title role. Charles' recent passing tinges this project with sadness, but his life and his work will endure.

 


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