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Review: written 2006

Outstanding movie – an instant classic

It took me a long time to finally get round to watching 'Ray'. The wait was well worth it - this is a terrific biopic – and outstanding not just as a biopic, but on any cinematic terms.

Whether a fan or not (I wasn't) most everyone will be aware at some level of Ray Charles' music. He's made that big an impact. This movie endeavours to show two periods of his life. The principal part of the movie follows his rise to fame, and corresponding fall into drug use and infidelity, climaxing in his redemption, kicking the habit, and recommitting his life as a husband and an entertainer. The second strand is told in flashback, showing Ray as a boy, before and during the process of him becoming blind - explaining (perhaps a little too neatly for some peoples taste) his need to escape into drugs, and how he managed to overcome the constraints of blindness with the help of his mother’s tough guidance. His mother is clearly the key character in his life, teaching him firmly but with love how to enhance his sense of hearing and touch in order to compensate for his blindness. His mother’s words echo frequently through the movie when she says, 'Always remember your promise to me. Never let nobody or nothing turn you into no cripple.'. These two tales interweave almost seamlessly, showing not just the facts but the effects on the older man of the younger man’s history. As an adult, the cinematography might be beautiful and the tones warm and rich, but Ray the man is shown warts and all - this is a man who used people shamelessly, not least the women in his life, and the movie does not shirk from showing him in those terms. This has the effect of really drawing you in. Instead of a whitewashed version of his life, you feel you are scratching the surface of a person just a little here, and it makes for fascinating viewing because it rings true.

Taylor Hackford the director has done an incredible job of creating striking visuals, from the dusty ochre coloured streets of his youth, through to smoky bars, and on to the over the top glitz of LA and swanky nightclubs - all the period settings ring true and are shot to perfection. You can tell this was a labour of love - in fact, Hackford bought the rights to the story back in 1987, but could not find a studio release - it was only after independent financing that Universal studio stepped in to facilitate its release. It must be a matter of some satisfaction to him that Ray Charles was able to see the first edit of the movie before he died, before the movie was actually released.

Then there is the acting - much has been said of Jamie Foxx's acting here, and it's all true- he embodies the part in a way which is uncanny - his efforts, going to Braille school, wearing prosthetics which made him blind during shooting, studying Ray Charles himself, have really paid off. However, this is a performance made up of more than gimmicks and prosthetics, this is the performance of a lifetime, giving the character real depth and depth of reality. Then there is the supporting cast - I cant even name them, because every role in the movie rings true, a credit to the casting and to the actors.

All in all, sure there are bound to be more truths to be told about his life, but this will certainly be the best biopic made of his life, and comes at a most fitting time. Terrific cast, script, cinematography and direction - a real winner.

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