In terms of showcasing truly American forms of musical expression, the 1950s and 1960s were watershed decades. Yesterday, this column reviewed the story of Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line,” which was released in 2005 and won Reese Witherspoon an Academy Award for playing June Carter Cash. One year earlier, Jamie Foxx won an Oscar for playing another iconic innovator in “Ray.”
“Ray” tells the story of legendary African-American pianist, composer and singer Ray Charles. Like Johnny Cash, Ray Charles was haunted by the death of his brother during his childhood. Shortly after this accident, young Ray began to lose his vision. But his musical talent was evident from his very first contacts with a piano. By the time he became a teenager; he was an expert at it and was able to support himself with his music. As was the case with Johnny Cash and others, once he came to the attention of the right record producers and agents, his career began to soar. In the 1950s, he married Della Bea (played by Kerry Washington), with whom he had a family. But his wedding ring did not deflect him from his womanizing ways and easy access to hard drugs ultimately undermined his success for a period of years. Nonetheless, he, like Cash, was eventually able to overcome his drug demons, enabling them both to “come back” as even stronger musicians than before.
Although “Ray,” has a lot of great music, some think the scenes where Ray Charles sings look a little fake. Although Foxx does a good job lip-syncing, it is obvious that it is not his voice doing the singing.
“Ray” is still worth seeing as it has an interesting story of an important era in American history. We see that Ray and his fellow musicians had to deal with a lot of racism, which was unfortunately typical in the 1950s and 1960s. Also, the viewer learns that, despite his handicap, Ray was good at taking care of himself.
Jamie Foxx is stunning as Ray Charles. During filming, his vision was obstructed, making for a very authentic feeling to his movements.
“Ray” is a good choice for fans of “Walk the Line,” as well as fans of Ray Charles and music from this era.