Ray is this year's first great historical drama. What initially seems like a confused and chaotic film with random flashbacks and surprising images ends up being a film about this confusion and chaos.
Jamie Foxx plays Ray Charles Robinson, jazz pianist and music revolutionary, who sees horrible things as a child and then loses his sight at age seven when he needs it most. In a world where being black makes his life more difficult than being blind, Charles goes farther than he ever dreamed and still, as his mother tells him, remains a cripple.
The music holds this film together. While similar movies too often wind up being overly sentimental, Ray's minimal (though very long) script allows music to be used where words are not enough or when they would be too much. This is perhaps the film's greatest feature: it allows Ray's music to speak for itself. From "Georgia On My Mind," the state song of Georgia, to "Hit The Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart" and other originals (which the real Ray Charles recorded for the movie before his death in June), it's hard not to fall in love with the music, regardless of whether you've heard it before.
Ray clearly marks the beginning of this year's "art" film season, when the major studios roll out their Oscar contenders and hopefuls. While Ray won't win best picture, Jamie Foxx deserves at least a nomination for Best Actor. His portrayal of Charles is dead-on; his speech and mannerisms are flawless, and he allows us to see how Ray's blindness and other shortcomings really affected his daily life. He plays a celebrity with the honesty that the Academy loves to reward.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this movie is that it's based on a true story. Even so, some of it could be cut: Ray is way too long. At over two-and-a-half hours, removing 30 minutes from the film's middle wouldn't have affected it much. Other sections, such as the opening 15 minutes, seem to be all over the place, and while this may be the effect the editors were going for, it should've been cleaned up to create more continuity.
Don't let the trailers fool you. In one preview that attempts to pass the movie off as a comedy, Ray feels the wrists of a few beautiful women (to decide if they're pretty enough for a one-night stand) until he gets to a fat woman, at which point he appears disgusted. This isn't funny; it's a cheap laugh. What's funny and sad is that he can only determine how women look by feeling up their arms. There is a lot of humor in this movie, but most of it is much more subtle and often darker than what you'll see in the trailers. It's the kind of comedy that makes you sorry you laughed when you see how serious it really is.
Though the movie is long, it briefly summarizes about 40 years of Ray's life, including his recent death, with just a few titles. While I found myself wanting more, you should take the movie for what it is. Its attempts to deal with important social issues are pushed to the background -- it won't revolutionize the biography film genre. Ray only ends up succeeding in accurately depicting every aspect of one of the most important musicians of our time. But you don't need to look for anything more: Ray Charles is all this movie needs.