Ray Taylor Hackford

Ray Taylor Hackford
Do biopics ever generate good movies or are they simply paint-by-numbers movie-making exercises? Though dramatically facile and shallow as social history, Taylor Hackford's Ray, based on the life of music genius Ray Charles, chronicles the singer's rise from sideman and Chitlin Circuit fixture to innovator, icon and international superstar, managing to do so without conforming to a Behind the Music structure. There isn't a neat pattern to Ray's life and Hackford and co-writer James L. White are right not to impose one on the movie. Even as we watch him reach the pinnacle of mainstream musical success, his weaknesses are depicted as instinctive and remorseless. And they are legion: womanising, a decade's worth of heroin abuse, children borne out-of-wedlock. Yet after a while there is a same-ness to it all: same drugs, same women and same problems. Clocking in at two hours and 33 minutes, and covering only ten years of the singer's life, Ray begins to feel like a story told in real time. Yet even during its weakest stretch there is always the music. On the commentary track, Hackford is effusive on how important it was to get an authentic feel for the musicianship, and his attention to detail pays off. Lead Jamie Foxx, we learn, plays all of the music and sings most of the songs at the film's beginning. Classically trained in piano (he turned down a music scholarship to pursue acting), Foxx's performance is a revelation and it would be pointless to argue that he has any genuine competition for the Oscar. In almost every scene he literally inhabits the skin of his character, and it could be argued that his performance (no mere imitation) is the main reason to see this film. But Ray scores as a feast for the senses. The culmination of a 15-year odyssey for Hackford, it is full of earthy sensuality, vivid colours and enough music to keep even the most ardent fan satisfied. Separated into two versions — a theatrical release and an extended version — the DVD provides longer versions of songs that appear in the movie, a plethora of deleted scenes and several homage-type documentaries chronicling the making of the film and the life of the artist. (Universal)