From the darkness of drug addiction to the light of musical perfection, Ray is an epic biopic with charm, finesse and very few flaws.

The talk around town about Jamie Foxx's Golden Globe winning performance is not without warrant. His acting career seems a little young for him to be picking up an Oscar, but his recreation of the enormously talented Ray Charles is undeniably faultless. He walks the walk, he talks the talk, he handles happiness, drug addiction and blindness unflinchingly. It is a monumental achievement.

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Also memorable is Sharon Warren, as the fiercely passionate Aretha Robinson, Ray's no- nonsense mother, who, after spending the majority of the film as a hard-loving, iron-fisted parent, delivers an emotionally shattering performance in a scene where a young Ray (C J Sanders) adjusts to his blindness.

Taylor Hackford, the director behind the impressive The Devil's Advocate and the inconsequential Proof Of Life, has created a beautifully rendered picture of mid-20th century America. Considering that the film was made without the financial backing of a studio, and, indeed, without the guarantee that it would ever get the distribution it deserves, Hackford has done a marvellous job. His care for this project is evident and despite the 15 years that Ray has been on Hackford's mind, there is no hesitation in the direction. Camera movement is as swift and stylish as the editing, sliding through decades and social issues without ever being distracted from the point of it all - the music. The quality of the lighting is deserving of mention, also. A man so shrouded in darkness never shone so bright, illuminated in the down and dirty drug scenes as in the spectacular concert scenes.

Charles, the man, is an unlovable human being. His morals are ambiguous and his drug addiction is selfish, ignorant and stupid. The film doesn't attempt to cover up nasty Ray, but does soften the blow with vivid flashbacks of his tough childhood. The respect that Foxx gains from the audience flies in the face of the reasons we have not to like him and underlines the quality of his performance.

The ending, however, contrasts with the honest nature of the rest of the film. It feels overly sympathetic, a reaction to Charles's death between the end of shooting and the end of post- production. Yet, Charles's life, no matter how dark and difficult, was also blessed with success, adoration and, by its end, happiness.

Ray is a very well made and thoroughly enjoyable picture. I came to it having no prior knowledge of Charles, but was involved from the very beginning. This is down to Hackford's unselfish direction and Foxx's break out performance, a ray of light in a darkened cinema.

Reviewed on: 23 Jan 2005
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The genius that is Ray Charles.
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Symon Parsons ****

Director: Taylor Hackford

Writer: James L White

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, Sharon Warren, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Bokeem Woodbine, Aunjanue Ellis, C J Sanders, Curtis Armstrong, Richard Schiff, Larenz Tate

Year: 2004

Runtime: 152 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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