Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Ray: Right Idea, Wrong Angle

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I must say, that after hearing all of the hype surrounding Ray, I was in the mood for a feel-good, inspiring drama after what I considered a depressing election night.

The concept for the film is simple enough: Follow the tribulations and triumphs of America's most beloved blues master, from his meager beginnings and his personal struggles, to his final absolution and victory in the face of poverty, discrimination, disability, and substance abuse.

Unfortunately, what would seem like a relatively easy target to hit seems difficult for writer and director Taylor Hackford. In his effort to bend a life-spanning biopic into a plot Hollywood would be proud of, he aims far too wide and misses the mark in what could have been a spectacular and heartfelt work. In other words, while searching for a narrative thread to tie the biopic together, Hackford tries to pack too much information in, and ends up detracting from the film's potency. Indeed, the movie lasts over 2 1/2 hours, and still seems unfinished when the epilogue begins to appear on screen.

This is not to say that Ray isn't worth your time. Jamie Foxx delivers a superb (and seemingly easy) performance that nails the unique and iconic facial expressions and bodily movements of the blues great. While all sung vocals are dubbed using actual recordings, Foxx's speaking voice is at times eerily similar to Charles', and his own on-screen charisma works wonderfully with the character he plays. He will certainly be nominated for Best Actor as the awards seasons nears.

The beautiful and powerful parts of Ray make one wish that Hackford had spent more time closely examining his subject rather than trying to cover as much of Charles' life as possible. Where there are a number of unnecessary and sometimes confusing scenes, there could have been less pressure on the editor to fit time constraints Where there is a seemingly endless string of montages to gloss over the passage of time, there could have been more energy spent on some of the stunning visuals that penetrate the heart of the film. Indeed, the beautiful and affecting moments (Charles as a boy going blind and watching the rain, his last argument with his wife, a few flashbacks with his mother) all seem to cut too soon, and left me feeling cheated out of their poignant content. Even the film's impressive resolution jumped to its epilogue before my emotional catharsis was complete.

See this movie for the acting of Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington (Charles' wife), Regina King (his girlfriend), and Sharon Warren (his mother). See it for the obviously wonderful soundtrack (despite the fact that most songs were shortened to 30 second clips). See it for the movie it could have been, and truly appreciate the touching pieces that cry out from under the smothering biopic blanket.