BluRay/DVD Reviews

RAY

By • Feb 1st, 2005 •

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Universal and Bristol Day Productions present an Anvil Films production in association with Baldwin Entertainment
Running time — 152 minutes

When I originally saw the film, I thought it no more than good, comparable in quality to a TV movie, and not meaning to denigrate it by that comparison, just establishing a reasonable analogy. At the same time, I found Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles to be magnificent, so packed with vocal and physical nuance that it manifestly transcended the realm of ‘impression’. To sink knee-deep into cliché, I forgot he was acting – he was Ray Charles. I felt similarly about Robert Downy Jr. in CHAPLIN, except that in that case, the film wasn’t even remotely good.

Seeing it again on DVD, the film itself has improved dramatically, mainly because of the screenplay and editing, which carry a lengthy bio-narrative along at locomotive speed, and often overlaps the lyrics of Charles’ best songs onto complex emotional events which are unfolding in his life. I’ve always had problems with biopics, particularly biopics about artists in which we’re supposed to understand what made them create. I had no such problems here, although I did miss seeing him being influenced by local gospel music as a child.

The DVD presents two versions of the film, the theatrical version, and a director’s cut with restored footage. The 25 minutes of restored scenes, or parts of scenes, are not formatted for 16X9, nor are they made to look desaturated and ‘period’ like the rest of the film, so they would have stood out even had they been seamlessly integrated rather than heralded by the two (visual, not sonal) musical notes that appear on screen each time a deleted clip is about to be shown. A few of these scenes enhanced the film, particularly one in which Kerry Washington, as Ray’s wife, endures verbal abuse about her husband in church, and later listens to him confess his own concerns about mixing gospel with rock. One of my problems with the theatrical release was that I detected no chemistry between the two actors to account for his wanting to marry her, but with the inclusion of these scenes, that problem was eliminated.

Another insert that moved me was of a soft shoe dancer in one of the clubs in which Ray first performed. His act is cut to next-to-nothing in the theatrical version, and justifiably so, to keep the story moving. But his complete number in the director’s cut is lovely, and since DVD is a much bigger market today than theatrical, I shouldn’t really feel bad for him (as I shouldn’t for Christopher Lee in THE RETURN OF THE KING). It was wonderful to see the footage restored.

Charles does the singing, Foxx does the playing. The orchestrations are full-bodied, and even replicate mic problems accurately in the club play-dates. Clearly Charles was in fine voice till the end. And thankfully he had the confidence to allow his character to be fully drawn, not white-washed as in the case of Jerry Lee Lewis supervising GREAT BALLS OF FIRE, a film which needed a more honest remake the day after it was released.

One thing that comes through loud and clear was how monumentally gifted and intelligent Charles was. He was even capable of creating all his backup singers’ voices if necessary (one of my favorite moments in the film). I urge you to pick up, as an accompaniment to RAY, the DVD RAY CHARLES LIVE AT THE MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL, a 73-minute Pioneer Artists release. What is particularly special about this disc is that it has a commentary track by Charles. At one point, if memory serves, he admits that his band had to have over three hundred songs memorized, and had to be prepared to perform any of them at a moment’s notice, depending on his whim.


Cast:Ray Charles: Jamie Foxx
Della Bea: Kerry Washington
Margie Hendrix: Regina King
Jeff Brown: Clifton Powell
Joe Adams: Harry Lennix
Fathead Newman: Bokeem Woodbine
Mary Ann Fisher: Aunjanue Ellis
Young Ray: C.J. Sanders
Ahmet Artegun: Curtis Armstrong

Crew:
Director: Taylor Hackford
Writer: James L. White
Story by: Taylor Hackford, James L. White
Producers: Taylor Hackford, Stuart Benjamin, Howard Baldwin, Karen Baldwin. Executive producers: William J. Immerman, Jamie Rucker King
Director of photography: Pawel Edelman
Production designer: Stephen Altman
Music: Craig Armstrong
Costume designer: Sharen Davis
Editor: Paul Hirsch

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