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Ray Movie Review

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Taylor Hackford should be commended in a big way. No, not for the movie, but for giving a chance to Jamie Foxx to break out in a big way. Ray, based on the early career of Ray Charles Robinson, is a good but not great biopic, but Foxx delivers a career-changing performance.

Foxx, who has flexed his muscles in the last couple of years with more dramatic fare such as this year's Collateral and 2001's Ali, has never been given the time of day by audiences. He has been at most a second-rate actor and most definitely a comical one - not someone who could do serious pictures. None of his movies up until 2004 have been spectacular are there are plenty of people who could probably fail to mention even one movie he's starred in. But now, things are different. Foxx will undoubtedly receive an Oscar nomination for his performance here, as he transforms himself both physically and vocally into the late Ray Charles. But, as most people would say, acting is more than just looks and voice - it's passion - and Foxx seems to be completely engrossed in the roll. From beginning to end, he is Ray Charles.

Except for about half a minute near the end of the movie. While this half-minute doesn't really take away from Foxx's performance, it is amazingly jarring. The movie uses flashbacks of Charles' childhood to both explain his blindness and his drug addiction, which revolves around the death of his younger brother. Near the end of the film, Charles finally accepts his brother's death wasn't his fault and Hackford chooses to portray this by placing the fully grown Jamie Foxx back in his childhood flashback - with the ability to see. Symbolically, it might sound good on paper, but oh is it so bad! The blindness is part of Charles' character and is very important in a movie, because movies are visual. For half a minute or so, Hackford yanks Foxx out of character and gives him the ability of sight, which surprisingly completely changes the look of Foxx himself. For that time, he doesn't walk like a blind man or look like a blind man - thus, he only looks like the actor Jamie Foxx. Hackford should have cut the scene out of the movie.

In fact, he should have cut a lot out of the movie. Ray is a pretty good movie, but it is long and in desperate need of editing. Ranging in at over two and a half hours, the movie is long and feels long. The middle act gets extremely boring at times as Hackford gets caught up in reiterating a lot of things over and over and over again. It is evident Hackford wanted to stay true to the man, but as a director you still need to be thinking about what makes a movie great. Had twenty minutes been carefully removed from the film, Ray would have been much better and not lost a single narrative. The biggest problem is after Charles begins to make it big, he becomes more involved with money, drugs and women. Hackford enjoys exploring his flaws in great detail and meticulously and methodically shows us each little development in his battles with temptation. The end result is a by-the-numbers biopic with great performances and a nice look, but way too much content that, split into scenes, does not continuously tell us more about the man. Instead, the movie continues to remind us about him and for that reason alone, Ray does not set itself apart.

Still, aside from its running time, Ray is a good picture that portrays Ray Charles in a very neutral light. It celebrates his accomplishments and criticizes his flaws. Hackford's presentation would have been really good had he been more willing to edit, but when Foxx is on screen, it's probably difficult to hit the 'Delete' button. This is Foxx's break-out role - expect to see a lot of him in the coming years.

DVD Review

"Ray" is still out in theaters, but Universal obviously wasn't expecting such a reception as the movie comes to DVD a few weeks before the Academy Awards, where Jamie Foxx is likely to get his first Oscar for his performance as Ray Charles. While I disagree with the nominations for Taylor Hackford for Best Director and its selection as a choice for Best Picture, it's still a good movie that should not be overlooked.

The most notable aspects of the DVD are the deleted scenes, of which there are many. In all, there are approximately 27 minutes of deleted scenes, which can be watched separately on the second disk or as part of an "Extended Version," which is included along with the normal theatrical version. All of the scenes are of pretty high quality and fairly interesting, but were removed to reduce the length of the picture. "Ray" is already too long to begin with, and while the scenes are pretty good, it's recommended to watch them separately. If you do decide to watch the new scenes during the actual movie, you'll find out that the scenes are not edited into the picture like they were in "Lord of the Rings" but are merely placed in the movie on their own, which means the movie pauses every time a deleted scene loads and some repeated lines are likely. Hackford also supplies commentary for the deleted scenes, and while he tends to narrate them a bit too much, it is clear he is quite enthusiastic about the subject as he never stops talking from beginning to end.

A theatrical-length commentary is also provided by Hackford.

Other features include two uncut musical performances from the movie, an interesting documentary that shows footage of Jamie Foxx preparing for the role by interacting with Ray Charles. The featurette provides some good interviews and nice footage of Foxx attempting to duplicate Ray's songs, as Foxx is quite the pianist himself (and Hackford remarks on how this helped Foxx get the job). Two brief montages, one called "An Inside Look at Ray," the other "Ray Remembered," are both fairly uninteresting and pointless, though some people might like to hear what some big names and friends of Ray had to say about the late musician.

All in all, the "Ray" DVD is well worth the purchase if you're a fan of the movie. The choice of both the theatrical and extended version on the same disc is nice, even if the extended version is really an inadequate way to watch the movie. Few DVDs come with good deleted scenes, but they are definitely the highlight of "Ray." The quality of the deleted scenes are a good example of the movie in general - all of the scenes are well done, but put together make an overly long and slightly repetitive film. Still, "Ray" is recommended, as is the DVD.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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