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:: Ray

Before his death in 2004, Ray Charles read a film script telling his life story. He hoped one day people would watch it and learn that “you don’t give up just because you get knocked down a few times.” It seems he has his wish. Ray opened to critical acclaim in the U.S and has now six Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Motion Picture.

Born in small town in Georgia, Ray Charles Robinson experienced the poverty of the great depression first hand. As a very small child he loved to hear the beautiful gospel voices at church, and learnt simple Blues piano from local musicians. Glaucoma began to steal his sight from the age of five, but nothing could steal his spirit.

The story, which was developed over fifteen years with Ray Charles himself, reflects on the pain of this childhood and the personal and professional dramas that surrounded his rise to international fame. He was the creator of Soul, whose personal struggles with drug addiction, love affairs, and his own past, threatened to end both his career and his marriage. His innovative sound combining of rock, blues and gospel, outraged Christian conservatives but also made him a star.

The film does rewrite history to some extent, failing to mention that his wife Della Bea was one of his backing singers, a first wife with whom he already had a child, and that all up he fathered, not one, but around thirteen children to various women. Also, he and Della Bea, not-so-romantically, divorced in 1977. However, this is not an exposé. It is a proud tribute to the highly respected musician he became, leaning toward the glory of his life, rather than the seediness.

Poor casting spoils so many biographical films, but the filmmakers were spot with this one, choosing Jamie Foxx to play the lead. The ex-comic proves his versatility and talent as a serious actor and makes it easy to get drawn into the story. Foxx studied Charles for the role, and even went so far as to play and perform all the live numbers himself. The soundtrack itself is a mix of unforgettable hits like “Unchain My Heart” and “Hit the Road Jack” that will be familiar to anyone, and more obscure track appeal to genuine fans.

At two and a half hours, it is probably too long for what it is and a few scenes feel drawn out and repetitive– more drugs, more women and more people being amazed by his talent. However, the basic plot makes this film worthwhile viewing. The life of Ray Charles really was extraordinary, full of tragedy, courage and inspiration.