My take on the movie "Ray"
I've spoken in my column concerning my misgivings with what Hollywood tends to do when making a movie about someone's life. It's never really accurate if you knew the person well. So I went into the theatre preparing to not like the movie, or at least to find a multitude of flaws. I was surprised at how well they did in creating a balance of Ray's enormous talent with his rather glaring personal flaws, that is at least in the first 2 hours and 25 minutes of the movie. More about the last 7 minutes later in this column. The film was overly dramatic at points, but most movies are. I never saw Ray break down and cry, for instance, as happens several times in the movie. His general reaction to intense emotion leaned more toward either anger or indifference, but this is only my personal perspective. Ray did in fact have a remarkable indifference to other peoples needs, and this was brought out in the movie by portraying the way he could mistreat people closest to him, his wife Della Bea, his longtime road manager Jeff Brown, and Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records. He was good at discarding people when he felt they were no longer useful to him. The movie also reflected Ray's intense drive to succeed, and most of all his unbelievable talent. And I am so happy that they used Ray's own recordings for the music instead of anyone else trying to imitate him. He was one of a kind, and was an artist impossible to duplicate. So the music throughout the movie was superb, and a good cross-section of his work through the heyday of his career in the 50's and 60's. The movie is worth going to just for the music.
But there is more to it, specifically Jamie Foxx's performance as Ray. He nailed him. Ray's mannerisms, his speaking voice, his way of walking, they were all absolutely flawless. I was awestruck, in fact. I was around Ray for 14 years. Foxx got nothing wrong. It's a cliche to say that it was like watching Ray, but in this case it's the truth. This is Oscar material for Foxx. In fact, the performances by everyone were first-rate.
There are a couple of things that I did want to clear up. The fact that Ray's brother died by drowning in front of his eyes was in no way related to him going blind. The movie seems to give that impression, not by commission but by omission. Ray's blindness was caused by childhood glaucoma, not by the emotional trauma of his brother's death. And my understanding is that Ray never called David Newman "Fathead", even though everyone else did. He always called him David.
Ok, about the last 7 minutes of the movie. They almost wrecked it for me. Again, this is a bit personal. The movie ended with Ray's cold turkey recovery from heroin addiction, after his second arrest and Margie Hendricks death by overdose. We are given the impression that this solved all of Ray's personal problems. In fact, it only solved one; the addiction to heroin. The movie almost treats it like "A Christmas Carol", with Scrooge awakening from his night with the spirits a changed and reformed man, ready to do good for the world. Ray woke up from his dark night free of heroin. This is no small thing. It is an accomplishment worthy of anybody's respect. But this did not solve his problems in dealing with people close to him. He did not become a faithful husband, for example, and even the long-suffering Della Bea finally divorced him. He retained an addiction to Bols gin until his final illness, and that addiction is no less life altering than heroin. Joe Adams continued to control Ray Charles Enterprises, alienating multitudes of people with his vindictive and petty ways, all with the tacet approval of Bro Ray himself. I only say this to set the record straight, and this is only my perspective, from being involved in the last two decades of his life and his career.
All that being
said, the movie is an extrordinary portrayal of a complex and determined
man that fought for his survival both musically and personally with ever
fiber of his being, and of a man that against all odds conquered the hardships
of the loss by drowning of his brother, the slow deterioration of his
eyesight, and the "Jim Crow" racism of 40's and 50's America
to become an American musical icon.