Released: Oct. 29 Distributor: Universal
Oscar alumni: Taylor Hackford (live action short, “Teenage Father”), Paul Hirsch (editing, “Star Wars”)
It didn’t take long for Jamie Foxx to become a front-runner for his performance as legendary late soul phenomenon Ray Charles.
From the first screenings in late summer, auds sparked to Foxx’s uncanny physical performance, which hits a range of major and minor dramatic chords. (Oh, and he plays piano while his eyes were glued shut, too.) As close to a shoo-in as noms get, Foxx’s heat could help this biopic in other categories, especially if it catches on commercially.
Taylor Hackford’s film covers the singer’s hardscrabble Georgia youth when he lost his sight at 7 years old to the period in the early ’60s when he uneasily balanced an exploding career with an addiction to heroin. James White’s expansive screenplay also makes cogent, dramatically sound connections between the major musical accomplishments in Charles’ career — mixing gospel and R&B, jumping from genre to genre — and the fierce independence that refused to let a disability block his progress.
Variety’s Todd McCarthy says Foxx’s quick ascent to the top of the Hollywood talent list is complete, and calls the film a fine achievement for Hackford.
Aside from Foxx’s galvanizing performance, knockout supporting work from Kerry Washington, as Charles’s stern-but-forgiving wife, and Regina King, as a backup singer and mistress, keep the personal elements of the man’s life on firm emotional footing. In flashbacks, Sharon Warren hits a poignant note as Charles’ tough mother.
The musical sequences, which go from divey clubs to raucous dance halls to packed auditoriums, are thrillingly edited by Oscar winner Paul Hirsch for maximum foot-tapping, head-bobbing effect. Oscar-nominated cinematographer Pawel Edelman (“The Pianist”) lends a rich color palette to everything from the red clay of Georgia soil to the gleam and sparkle of a wealthy musician’s mansion.
With Charles passing earlier this year after staying with the project for 15 years, “Ray” is likely to enjoy an advantage as a sentimental favorite.