Ray (review)

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Talk about a handicap. Not the comedian-turned-serious-actor one, which was dispatched when Jamie Foxx turned in a smart, subtle performance in this summer’s Collateral. No: To portray a beloved cultural figure in a big-budget, Oscar-bound biopic (translation: pots of money and tons of prestige are riding on this one), Foxx divests himself of a sensitive actor’s most effective tool: his eyes. And he’s astonishing anyway, using his whole body — just as his subject, Ray Charles, did — to express himself eloquently, with nothing overblown or cartoonish in what is more an evocation than a simple impersonation. There’s no pity — the film makes it clear that Charles would’ve had none of it, anyway — and a surprising toughness here, the typical rags-to-riches, sex-drugs-and-R&B story imbued with, well, a lot of soul. Drawing greatly on Charles’s roots in poorer-than-poor sharecropping Florida — and on a family tragedy he witnessed as a boy — Ray conjures up, better than most similar films and without hitting a single false note, a compelling depiction of the roots of creativity and the ambitious drive behind success as phenomenal as Charles’s. Oh, and the music is spectacular, too.

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