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Video | Jamie Foxx gives a career-making performance as music great Ray Charles

Issue: "Social Security breach," Feb. 19, 2005

There's a dream sequence late in Ray when Jamie Foxx breaks character and the audience glimpses Jamie Foxx the actor. The moment is startling because, for the rest of the film's long 152 minutes (or 178 minutes, including added scenes for the newly released DVD), not for a moment will you doubt Mr. Foxx as music great Ray Charles.

Mr. Foxx's performance is the key to the Oscar-nominated Ray's success. The biopic has some faults, but none of them rest on the shoulders of Mr. Foxx, who manages to portray an iconic figure without sounding or looking remotely like an impressionist.

The PG-13 rated Ray (for depiction of drug addiction, sexuality, and some thematic elements) presents Ray Charles with unvarnished honesty. His long struggle with drugs and constant womanizing give the film a profound sadness that tempers the highs of his musical successes. While these elements make Ray unsuitable for children, they are handled tastefully in a film that could have easily gone into R-rated territory.

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Music is always at the heart of the movie, and director Taylor Hackford takes the unusual liberty of including full-length performances rather than the expected montages. Sounds that now seem standard-Charles's groundbreaking melds of gospel and country with r&b-seem fresh and exciting, giving audiences a sense of what it must have been like to hear them for the first time.

Intermittent flashbacks to Charles's heartbreaking childhood meet with mixed success. The final flashback/dream sequence mentioned above seems especially unnecessary and brings the film to an abrupt conclusion. The film is also weakened by some fudging on his infidelity. While the destructive power of heroin is terribly illustrated, viewers are led to believe that Charles's marriage to Della Bea (the very effective Kerry Washington) survives. In fact, Charles had two marriages and two divorces, and sired children by at least five different women.

Despite these weaknesses, Ray is a fascinating account of a troubled genius, features some great music, and, above all, highlights a career-making performance by Jamie Foxx.


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