on October 29, 2004 by Kevin Courrier
If Kevin Spacey's "Beyond the Sea," about the life of Bobby Darin, is an example of a Hollywood musical biography gone painfully wrong, "Ray," featuring the life of the great rhythm and blues artist Ray Charles, is a case of everything going perfectly right. Perfection begins with Jamie Foxx in the title role. Not only does Foxx capture the wary soul of this American genius, who radically fused gospel, blues and country into a potent musical force, he also captures his great warmth. Although Foxx sings some of the early material, he later lip-synchs Charles' hits. But he gets so far inside the character that, like Jessica Lange's Patsy Cline in "Sweet Dreams," he practically embodies the songs.

"Ray" sits firmly in the grand commercial tradition of "Lady Sings the Blues" and "What's Love Got to Do With It?," but director Taylor Hackford also tells Charles' story by dramatizing his art. It delves into his early childhood in the South, going blind, riding the chitlin' circuit with blues artist Lowell Fulson; his landmark years with Atlantic Records recording the classics, "Mess Around" and "I Got a Woman"; and his later period with ABC-Paramount recording the deeply rich "Georgia On My Mind" and "Hit the Road, Jack."

While the film deals squarely with his womanizing and his heroin habit, unfortunately, the domestic scenes with his wife Della Bea (Kerry Washington) are poorly structured. Hackford gives us no sense as to why she wants to stay married to him. However, Regina King's powerhouse performance as Marjorie "Margie" Hendricks of Ray's backup group, The Raelettes, is a small classic. Sharing both his bed and his music, King delves into Hendricks' sensual hunger for Charles, and how it was equaled by her passion for the music. "Ray" is the kind of joyous movie experience that can make you see the light. Starring Jamie Foxx, Regina King, Kerry Washington, Richard Schiff and Larenz Tate. Directed by Taylor Hackford. Written by James L. White. Produced by Taylor Hackford, Stuart Benjamin, Howard Baldwin and Karen Baldwin. A Universal release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for depiction of drug addiction, sexuality and some thematic elements. Running time: 152 min

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