Plot: What’s it about?
While watching “Ray”, I was reminded at what a great actor Jamie Foxx really is. Foxx, like many other actors today, started out in the comedy circuit in the early 90’s and has now become one of Hollywood’s leading men. Like Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans and Adam Sandler before him – he’s certainly got what it takes to make it in the movie business. Until “Ray”, though, he was best-known for his supporting parts. But with his work in last summer’s “Collateral” (for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor) and his Best Actor nomination for portraying Ray Charles, it’s safe to say that he’s arrived. I had the opportunity to meet Jamie Foxx back in 2000 when he was promoting “Any Given Sunday”. We met only briefly, but he seemed honest and genuine and I’m happy to see that he’s on the road to success. And what is it about movies that portray entertainers that bring out the best in the actors who portray them? Dennis Quaid playing Jerry Lee Lewis, Bette Midler playing Janice Joplin Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison? It seems more predestined than anything, but “Ray” has more to it than meets the eye – so to speak…
“Ray” is the life story of the late Ray Charles, who died during the filming of this movie. Charles went blind when he was nine years old, and through the encouragement of his mother – he learned to make the best of his condition instead of use it as an excuse to waste away. His younger brother had drowned in an accident just a few years before this, a memory that still haunts him. He was brought up with good values and also not to take any abuse. When he travels to Seattle to become an entertainer, he uses his blindness to manipulate people into doing things for him. He catches on with a group that extorts him for his talent, a group that he soon leaves to pursue his own solo career. He becomes involved with marijuana and later heroin – something the “average” Ray Charles fan doesn’t really know (well, I didn’t anyway). For those that aren’t too familiar with the works of Ray Charles, he really started “Soul” music – combining gospel and R & B. He was out for himself and while not selfish, he wasn’t going to be taken advantage of, either. Clearly, there was a lot more to Ray Charles than most of us knew.
Perhaps the best part of “Ray” is watching Jamie Foxx become the legend. Ray Charles was deeply involved with the production of this film until his untimely death in June of 2004. Foxx doesn’t sing on the soundtrack, it’s Charles. What Foxx does do is capture the essence of what made Ray Charles Ray Charles. His trademark sunglasses, his constant swaggering with the music he was playing and the constant smile that seemed to convey how happy he made everyone. The movie portrays Charles as a philandered, who evidently has quite a few illegitimate children out there. Not to look down upon the man, but he still found time for a wife amidst other things. The movie only covers the first part of his life, from the late 40’s to the mid 60’s (essentially the prime of his life) and Foxx manages to pull off one of the best feats of acting that I’ve seen in a while. When the Oscars are announced, expect Jamie Foxx’s name to be read as Best Actor. For anyone associated with music or for anyone that likes to see a great performance – “Ray” is highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
“Ray” is presented in a 1.85:1 anamoprhic transfer that is, of course, available in two different editions. I was fairly impressed by the widescreen version though I know that Taylor Hackford traditionally uses a 2.35:1 image (though “An Officer and a Gentleman” was 1.85:1). The film is shot beautifully and it seemed to me that a lot of browns and darker hues tended to dominate. I didn’t notice any signs of artifacting, edge enhancement…basically anything that would plague an older transfer. This new to DVD picture looks just about as good as it can with only some occasional softness that gets in the way. Overall, “Ray” offered up a very impressive transfer that would be hard to top.
Audio: How does it sound?
I don’t want to say that I was “disappointed” by the lack of a DTS track, but Universal has put them on some less-than-deserving titles. I think this would have been a prime candidate for a Dolby Digital/DTS track. But alas…I can say that the included Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very good. As one might imagine, there is plenty of audio to go around and all of Charles’ songs sound as if you were in the lounge singing along. This isn’t the kind of soundtrack that blows the roof off the place, but rather a more subtle, dynamic track that enhances the movie. Dialogue is very clean and free of distortion and though the surrounds aren’t too overly active, they add depth when needed. This is a very good-sounding disc and one that I enjoyed.
Supplements: What are the extras?
There is a “Limited Edition” of the movie, but the masses will be more than satisfied with this two-disc offering by Universal. The biggest feature is that a “Director’s Cut” can be chosen via seamless branching or you can watch the theatrical version (the Director’s Cut runs nearly three hours, so get comfortable). This expands upon the movie by around twenty minutes and does add some more detail where needed. Two musical numbers are also shown in their entirety. A very insightful commentary track by Hackford is included with details on the shoot, the casting and his challenge to get the movie made (he’s had the rights to it since 1987). Charles’ passing, of course, was a major deal with the movie and though the movie is getting noticed, he reflects back on whom Charles was and his impact on music in general. Two featurettes are included: “Stepping into the Part” which focuses on Jamie Foxx, obviously. Foxx not only looked like Charles, but he almost literally became him – this featurette shows the work involved and how Foxx got into character. Next is “Remembering Ray” which pays tribute to Ray Charles. This is a pretty moving featurette and Charles’ untimely death makes the movie that much more powerful. Some cast and crew bios and a trailer are also included. “Ray” probably won’t win Best Picture, but it’s still a great movie with some a performance that could be the best in years…