Boilerplate Biopic


There’s nothing wrong with Ray that a little less hype couldn’t fix. As biopics go, it’s pretty good. Jamie Foxx is convincing as the iconic Ray Charles. Writer James L. White and writer/director Taylor Hackford employ a clumsily expository flashback structure that actually pays off beautifully at the end with a startling and unexpected moment of transcendence and vision. Two and a half hours clip by briskly. And there’s plenty of Charles’ music.

But watching the movie a week before the Academy Awards, I was underwhelmed. Can’t we get better than this for our best-picture nominations?

Like almost all biopics, Ray has a this-happened-and-then-this-happened-and-then-this structure that does little if anything to illuminate its subject. As portrayed in the movie, Ray Charles was a very closed man, and he shows virtually no emotion until his mistress dies two hours into the film. I didn’t feel like I understood or knew Charles any better than before I saw the movie. (You’re welcome to feel differently, but doing so requires swallowing a big load of horseshit about Ray being driven by guilt over an incident in his childhood.)

And because of Charles’ fame — and the fact that he lived a clichéd rags-to-riches-and-drugs-and-bitches story — there’s no drama in the narrative. Worse, there’s no drama in the telling; Hackford uses the singer-innovator’s music as a buoy and doesn’t invest the rest of the movie with much energy or life.

And then there’s Foxx’s performance, which looks great mostly in comparison to a handful of stagy supporting turns. And when you consider that Foxx didn’t actually perform a lot of Charles’ singing parts ... .

These flaws don’t diminish Ray as a passable and competent entertainment. But everything about the movie is simply too rote for the acclaim and awards it has gotten.

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