Jamie Foxx completes his ascendancy to the upper echelons of stardom with a virtuoso performance in Ray, a by-the-rules biopic about the legendary Ray Charles. In fact, Foxx is so good he isn't even playing Charles, he is Charles. This is especially difficult given that the memory of Ray Charles, who died early this year, is still fresh in everybody's mind. Everybody knows what he looks like, how he moves, and what he sounds like. It's a testament to Foxx that he slips so easily into the Charles role, and has the mannerisms and voice down pat (Charles, who had casting approval still sings while Foxx lip-syncs). Foxx (Collateral, Breakin' All the Rules) even had his eyes sealed so he could experience Charles' lack of sight.

Ray, although it is an unflinching look at Ray Charles, treats its subject with utter reverence. As it should. Charles was the first to combine R&B and gospel to make soul music, and through the years hopped genres and sold millions of records. Director Taylor Hackford (Proof of Life, The Devil's Advocate) takes a straightforward approach to chronicling Charles' life, starting with his move from the South to Seattle, then hitting all of the high points. Hackford when flashes back to relevant episodes when Charles was a child. He lost his sight at age seven, but not before witnessing his brother's death. His mother (a very effective Sharon Warren) makes sure that he can take care of himself, since nobody will take care of him. He slowly earns respect from the people around him because he is smart (he insists on being paid in singles to avoid being ripped off), self-sufficient (he wears hard soled shoes so he can hear the echoes of his footsteps) and he is damn good at music.

Ray Charles Robinson adopted the stage name Ray Charles as to avoid confusion with 'Sugar' Ray Robinson. Since he could not see, he played by ear. This meant that he could imitate everybody really well. Ahmet Ertegun (Curtis Armstrong, Dodgeball, Van Wilder) recognized Charles' raw talent, and signed him to Atlantic records. There, he nurtured Charles and encouraged him to experiment until he came up with his signature sound. At some point, he also graduated from marijuana to harder drugs like heroin. He married Della Bea (Kerry Washington, She Hate Me, Against the Ropes), got his own band, and began having affairs with various women over the country. Hackford, who co-wrote the story with James L. White, hits most of the major points in Charles' personal and professional life. They spotlight hit song, the birth of his son, his stint in rehab, and his refusal to play a segregated concert in Georgia, which earned him a lifetime ban.

Everything is in place, and the music is wonderful, but aside from that, Ray feels slightly inert. There doesn't seem to be any new insight into the life of Charles. Hackford did need to make sure that Charles was okay with everything, he does do justice to the life of Charles, but it just feels so conventional. The real reason to watch Ray is for Foxx, the music, and a great supporting cast. Washington, Warren, Regina King (A Cinderella Story, Legally Blonde 2), Clifton Powell (Woman Thou Art Loosed, Never Die Alone), Aujanue Ellis (Undercover Brother, Lovely & Amazing), and Harry Lennix (Suspect Zero, Barbershop 2) are all uniformly good. Particularly for Powell and King, who play roles very different from ones they typically do. This is probably one of the best casts of African-American actors gathered together in a long time. And towering above them all is Jamie Foxx, who will hopefully be able to add "Academy Award Nominee" or "Academy Award Winner" after his name come next year.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 33 minutes, Rated PG-13 for depiction of drug addiction, sexuality, and some thematic elements.

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