The first image I remember of Ray Charles is probably that scene in The Blues Brothers where he plays Shake a Tail Feather. As a kid, I don’t think my first thought was concerning Ray’s blindness, bur rather how he played with such enthusiasm and could really move to the music just sitting behind a keyboard. I don’t remember, but my dad might have had to tell me he was blind before I realized it. Maybe kids just don’t notice those sort of things when someone doesn’t seem handicapped.
This movie biopic about Ray Charles takes place way before the days of The Blues Brothers. We first meet him as a young man on his way to Seattle to play in a little jazz joint called The Rocking Chair. He has a nice start there as part of a trio, but quickly realizes that he’s treated like a dog on a leash. Everyone feels like because of his blindness he needs to be looked after, taken care of, babysat. He leaves to play somewhere else, but this keeps happening until he establishes himself. Unfortunately, along the way he starts using heroin and cheats on his wife while he’s on the road.
Sex and drugs aren’t his first problem though. As the film progresses, we get looks back at Ray’s early childhood in the rural south. We see his first encounter with a piano and some memories that haunt him throughout his life and only intensify with his heroin addiction. These flashbacks also show us how Ray slowly lost his sight at just seven years old.
Jamie Foxx hands down deserved the Oscar he won for portraying Ray Charles. Everything is there, the walk that rocks back and forth, the kinda fidgety way he moves and the slight stutter. And it’s not done in a caricature way you see all the time, but fleshes out to feel authentic. Foxx was even blind during filming due to the eye prosthetics he had to wear and really had to figure out how to move around the sets on his own while being Ray.
And let’s not forget the music. Jamie Fox really did play piano for all the scenes, but you could swear it’s Charles. He looks that passionate and natural.
Now, I think people are likely to compare this film to Walk the Line from 2005, the biopic about Johnny Cash’s career and overcoming his drug addiction. They’re both good movies with similar subjects but vastly different. First of all, country and jazz and rock and roll are two different worlds. Another, Walk the Line mostly becomes a love story and Reese Witherspoon schools Joaquin Phoenix in acting, whereas Ray is strictly about Ray and Jamie Fox carries this film all on his own with out even seeing. And their childhood traumas, Ray’s has Johnny’s guilt issues plus blindness. Like I said, I enjoy both films, but Ray has more merit.
Obviously any fans of Ray Charles or Jamie Foxx have to put this on their must-see list. If you’re interested in rock and roll history or the Civil Rights movement, this should also be up your alley. Everyone else, just see it cause it’s a good movie, I guarantee you’ll be tapping your toes along with the music.
“Always remember your promise to me. Never let nobody or nothing turn you into no cripple.”