Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 2004. Universal Pictures, Bristol Bay Productions, Anvil Films, Baldwin Entertainment Group. Story by Taylor Hackford, James L. White, Screenplay by James L. White. Cinematography by Pawel Edelman. Produced by Howard Baldwin, Karen Elise Baldwin, Stuart Benjamin, Taylor Hackford. Music by Craig Armstrong. Production Design by Stephen Altman. Costume Design by Sharen Davis. Film Editing by Paul Hirsch. Academy Awards 2004. Boston Film Critics Awards 2004. Golden Globe Awards 2004. Screen Actors Guild Awards 2004. Toronto International Film Festival 2004.
On the cusp of a terrific career in music, pianist Ray Charles Robinson, later to be known only by his first and middle name, defines a style of performance that incorporates jazz, swing and gospel to an effect that some call sacrilegious but everyone else finds irresistible. He also discovers a love of heroin that threatens to destroy his wonderful success as well as his loving family with his wife Bea (Kerry Washington) and their children. While touring the country and creating his musical sensations, Ray remembers his childhood with his unwaveringly determined mother who taught him that his being blind was no reason to think of himself as a cripple. Taylor Hackford has fashioned a richly felt, deeply enjoyable tribute to one of the century’s greatest American musicians, highlighting his creative genius, his political stand against segregated Georgia, and the sad truth about his drug addiction and extramarital affairs, all of it coming together as one fully realized portrait of a complicated man. Jamie Foxx‘s performance in the lead is uncanny, an incredible likeness that is played from within, his blindness fully convincing and his lip syncing spot-on. Thankfully, the film concentrates on musical performances, which are all stunning, while also giving rich detail about the characters’ fascinating private lives. All the performances are excellent, especially Sharon Warren as Ray’s unforgettable mother, Regina King as his mistress, Clifton Powell as his best friend and manager, and Aunjanue Ellis as the first singer to perform with his band. The ending is the only disappointment, a jerky finish that seems to fall right off a cliff without any good reason (I personally don’t think his life became boring just because he beat his heroin habit), but the soundtrack is so electric you’ll be up on your feet anyway.