With an astonishing soundtrack and a wonderful story of struggle and triumph, Ray may well be the best biopic I’ve seen.

Growing up in Georgia as a black child in the time of segregation, Ray Charles Robinson had enough to deal with – even with intact sight he was up against it. To then go blind, after witnessing his younger brother drowning… well, it’d be enough to drive a weaker man to drink. That it did, but also helped him produce some of the most groundbreaking music of the 50s and 60s is well known, but how much was the music a product of the struggle? Ray Charles seems full of contradiction – drug use and sexual infidelity aligned with the man who brought Gospel to Jazz-loving white America. That his subsequent fame led to persecution by (particularly) Southern governments and police is no surprise, although in this day and age it still seems so foreign – some of the racist antagonists must still be living, and I wonder how they feel about our progress?

Jamie Foxx as Ray CharlesCharles’ guilt about his brother’s death, and how it drove him not only to abuse drugs and sex, but to produce some of the most amazing music of all time, is wonderfully detailed in an exceptional performance by Jamie Foxx. Not only does he get every mannerism and nuance of such a well-known figure spot on, he lets us forget we’re watching anyone but Charles himself. No small feat for one of the most parodied musical performers in history. Foxx brings heart and soul, along with a good helping of believable musical talent. This is the definitive Ray Charles.

The music – original recordings with Foxx lip-synching – is awesome. Having always enjoyed Charles’ music, I was nonetheless stunned by the depth of his work. Crossing Rythym & Blues with Gospel, Country, Jazz… his innovations changed music. With massive hits and songs I’d only occasionally heard, I was tapping my feet, clicking my fingers and almost wanting to sing along. The use of the songs and their lyrics to add context and colour to the real-life dramas is a masterstroke. The introduction to ‘Hit The Road Jack’ with Margie Hendricks (Regina King) tearfully and then angrily providing the counterpoint is beautiful.

Whilst Ray is a little long at two-and-a-half hours, for anyone with any interest in music the time will fly. Even if not, Foxx’ performance is so stunning, it would be worth watching for that alone. Highly Recommended.

Rating: 4.0 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 1st January 1970
Hoopla Factor: 4.0 stars

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