At the center of any good biographical feature film is a great performance, like Jamie Foxx's body-and-soul channeling of soul music's original ivory-twinkling innovator Ray Charles in "Ray." But a great performance does not make a biopic great. To rise above the kind of "true stories" that are the fodder of several assembly-line TV movies every year, a biopic needs to be like Ray Charles -- departing from formula and daring to be different.
Director Taylor Hackford (who once helmed the Chuck Berry concert film "Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll") doesn't manage that in "Ray," a film that feels more like a two-and-a-half-hour highlights reel from Charles' life. But as a primer on that man's life (musical brilliance, adultery, addiction, and lip service to lyrical controversy and segregation struggles) -- and for a film with a prefabricated story arc and little detail (Charles fathered 12 kids, only three or four of which are even mentioned in the film) -- "Ray" could be a lot worse.
At the very least it has a passionately devoted, dead-on lead actor -- Foxx not only nails the blind soul king's swaying jitterbug body language, but also seems to capture his very essence as a man and musician -- and a whole lot of fantastic, toe-tapping, heart-pumping R&B.
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