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Ray
Dome Cinema 
Directed by Taylor Hackford. Written by James L. White based on a story by Taylor Hackford and James L. White. Starring: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King. 152 mins. USA.

By Sam Gerrans

Review top sheet: a period-piece tribute to the late, great Ray Charles based on his life in all its glory – and lack thereof – which catalogues his musical development.

Will you like this film?

Yes, if: when the box says Charles, you buy it
No, if: you’re in the market for a bona fide drama
Maybe, if: you have ever clicked your fingers to “Hit the Road Jack” and would like to know more

Comments: tribute films do not make good cinema. At worst, they are a pointless fiction riding on the back of a famous name. At best, they work as pumped-up documentaries with an unconvincing justification for being shown in a cinema.

Their place is on TV.

To my mind, considering its genre – if you can call it that – “Ray” is not a bad tribute film. But coming as close is it does to the man’s passing, it leaves itself open to the charge of opportunism.

Ambulance-chaser was a – perhaps unfortunate – phrase which came to mind as I watched.

Out-of-five star ratings:

• Story: **
• Dialogue: *
• Substance: *
• Film craft: ***

Story comments: the writer has strived – not without success – to craft a character arc out of a biography and to hit the requisite three-act peaks we subconsciously expect (but hate if they come in just the way we expect) from the cinematic experience.

The problem is that real-life stories don’t have plot points as such. They have bills to be paid and people who get on your nerves.

The moments which most resemble plot points in the lives of celebrated people like Charles (in the context of biography-done-as-cinema) are when they meet certain people whose influence or patronage impact on them in some significant way. But even that’s pretty dull, too.

However you dress it up, we – like Charles are really only there for one thing: the music.

So the question is: does it work?

Absolutely. Jamie Foxx gives great Ray. I mean, he’s got the blind-man thing down pat. Ray’s body language not only differed from a seeing person’s body language, it was a whole different language altogether. And Jamie Foxx does it superbly while hitting a mean mime to all the Ray Charles classics. It’s kinda eerie and an achievement in its own way.

But is it great cinema?

Er, no.

Dialogue comments: a great deal of the film is in that post-war Black jive speak which – to be perfectly honest – I have to concentrate to understand.

Foxx’s performance is generally good – given my misgivings about the genre per se – but he wavers a little too close to a Malcolm X and even a Louis Farrakhan at times for me to be entirely comfortable.

The supporting roles were all right. But again, none of this is cinema. It’s a movie of the week.

Substance comments: the film is about the music of Ray Charles. It has no other point.

It tries to draw some sort of amateur psychoanalysis rabbit out of the hat. This film cost quite a bit to make, so they felt they had to do something. But the attempt did nothing for me.

We occasionally yawned in the direction of the Helen-Keller-against-all-odds thing. But that, too, worked like a damp sparkler and fizzled out pretty much as soon as it got going.

Film craft comments: the film is well put together technically and tastefully shot.

Given that I was there for the music, I found it best to regard the rest of the film as a long advert for Southern Comfort in which the product itself makes no appearance.

A taste of the story: Ray Charles was born. He went blind. He made some of the kickingest music of the twentieth century. The end.


Sam Gerrans is a freelance writer and translator: http://samgerrans.com.

16.03.05
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