Unless you’re a super-duper keen bean who picks up Salient hot off the presses, first thing Monday morning, the second it gets distributed (and if you are, I thank you), by the time you read this, Jamie Foxx will have won the Oscar for Best Actor or not. If he hasn’t, you might not want to venture near our offices; I’m going to be in a foul, foul mood.
Biopics are notoriously difficult to do well, and within this iffy genre, Ray (for those of you who spent the summer in Siberia, it’s about the life of legendary musician Ray Charles) is pretty good. Director Taylor Hackford and screenwriter James L. White navigate the characteristically plotless territory of biography (after all, whose life has a neat three-act story arc?) by focusing Charles’ life around four key factors: Blindness. Women. Heroin. And, of course, music. Thus, Ray becomes not just a rambling life story, but the tightly woven tale of a man dealing with disability and discrimination by turning to womanising and drugs and who, of course, ultimately overcomes it all. It’s compelling, it’s pacey, the musical sequences are outstanding (and seamlessly integrated) and, despite doing the annoying biopic trick of jumping 40 years by way of a paragraph of text onscreen and a dream sequence toward the end that made me want to barf, it’s an enjoyable movie.
But Jamie Foxx. Jamie Foxx is better than enjoyable. Jamie Foxx is better than outstanding. He is the superlative of every adjective you could use to describe a Best Actor winner, and more. Who would have thought that a guy whose name incorporates double Xs could act with so much integrity? As Ray Charles, Foxx had to learn to lip-sync flawlessly – and to play dozens of Charles tunes on the piano. He spent weeks of rehearsals with tape over his eyes, learning to act blind (and in fact plays, almost without exception, the entire role with his eyes closed). He learned to imitate Charles precisely – his voice, his swagger, his habit of hugging himself. Foxx does all of this, and more; beyond just being an incredible impersonation, Foxx’s performance is at once challenging, moving, controversial and sympathetic. He took my breath away. He makes the movie. If he doesn’t win, I might just cry at the injustice of it all.
Directed by Taylor Hackford