Ask anyone for an opinion of "Ray
," Taylor Hackford's biopic of musical pioneer Ray Charles, and you're likely to hear only two words: Jamie Foxx. Flirting with serious acting since his turn as a footballer in Oliver Stone's bombastic "Any Given Sunday", Mr. Foxx gives a performance of unexpected depth and heart, not impersonating the titular singer by any means, but embodying him with courage and strength.
The film, which covers Mr. Charles' seemingly immediate rise to fame and his battle with heroin addiction, is told with flashbacks to his slow loss of eyesight as a child. The flashback technique is tried and true and for the most part works, though it is mostly used for obvious insights (we find out that Ray adopted phrases like "scratch a lie, find a thief" from his mom. Not exactly earth shattering).
Mr. Hackford, working from a screenplay by newcomer James L. White (from a story by Mr. White and Mr. Hackford), seems determined to make Mr. Charles' life story a tearjerker and he pulls out the standard emotional stops to do so (swelling strings, emotional confessions, etc). But for every moment that feels like a biopic cliché, there is a moment of poignancy: Ray's mother (a perfectly no-nonsense Sharon Warren) watches silently as her newly-blind son cries for her help, forcing him to find his way on his own - but always under her watchful eye.
And, of course, there are the songs. Mr. Charles' considerable catalog makes the film almost a Greatest Hits compilation. Mr. White's script does a nice job of creating scenes around the songs and using them to track Mr. Charles' career, specifically his time on the road and his interaction with Ahmet Ertegun (Curtis Armstrong) from Atlantic Records.
The supporting cast is strong throughout - particularly Kerry Washington as Della Bea, Ray's steadfast wife. But this film belongs to Jamie Foxx, and he runs away with it. A classically trained pianist, Mr. Foxx' obvious respect for his subject shines through every moment of the film, making "Ray" not just a biopic but a fitting tribute to Ray Charles.