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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Taylor Hackford|
scr James L White
with Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Aunjanue Ellis, Bokeem Woodbine, Larenz Tate, Sharon Warren, CJ Sanders, Curtis Armstrong, Richard Schiff, David Krumholtz, Terrence Dashon Howard, Chris Thomas King, Thomas Jefferson Byrd
release US 29.Oct.04, UK 21.Jan.05
Georgia on my mind: yes, that's Foxx
Anchored by Foxx's astonishingly powerful performance, this moving and engaging biographical film about musical genius Ray Charles is also director Hackford's finest film.
The narrative centres on Charles' journey from northern Florida in 1948 to his the top of the musical world in the 1960s. This is the period in which Charles married his sweetheart (Washington) and dallied with his background singers (King and Ellis), other women and heavy drugs. We meet fellow musicians (Woodbine's Fathead Newman, Tate's Quincy Jones), bandleaders (Howard and King), managers (Powell and Lennix), record executives (Armstrong and Schiff), an agent (Krumholtz) and, in flashbacks, Ray as a young boy (Sanders) who lost both his little brother and his eyesight at age 5.
Yes, there's a lot going on here, and the story covers several important issues as well (poverty, discrimination, drug abuse, business ethics). But it's to Hackford's credit that he keeps the characters and timeline clearly defined (with perhaps a few blips), maintaining the focus tightly on Charles and his music without cutting away from gritty reality (the rehab sequence is harrowing). There is never a whiff of pity, moralising or lesson-learning--Charles is complex and unapologetic, with extraordinary gifts, strong internal demons and a rare flair for life.
So if Charles is the heart and soul of the film, it all hinges on Foxx. And he delivers a real stunner of a performance. As Charles evolves from a poor young blind man into an international star, Foxx lets the inner man grow in detailed ways that are both intimate and cinematic. We watch him blossom, develop his specific verve for life, make his own rules and emerge as one of the key figures of the century. It's absolutely jaw-dropping to watch--engaging, robust, warm and sometimes devastatingly raw.
Meanwhile, Hackford mixes filmmaking styles in an attempt to echo Charles eclectic music (he was the first to mix blues, jazz, gospel and country into genre-busting new sounds that we take for granted now). This works more often than not, especially with the inventive use of vintage film footage to signpost the settings. And he fills the movie to the brim, and beyond, with Charles' unforgettable, glorious music. All while reminding us that Charles' legacy is much more than records.
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