The textured performances from Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, Clifton Powell and Bokeem Woodbine truly tell a full story in “Ray,” rendering superfluous the bulk of the bonus features on Universal Homevideo’s version of the Oscar-nommed pic. The only thing not in the film is Ray Charles, himself, and there isn’t enough Brother Ray in the bonus features to make this package feel complete. For those attracted to the pic primarily out of love for Charles and his music, there is one piece of reassurance from director Taylor Hackford: “Everything about this film, Ray touched.”
Like “Seabiscuit” and “Lost in Translation,” U homevid chose to release its best pic nominee before the Oscars, making “Ray’s” DVD launch another spoke in a long campaign for Oscar gold. (No other best pic nominees will hit shelves before the Academy Awards this year.)
Hackford’s commentary is at its best when he is differentiating between Ray’s version of the truth and “other evidence.” In every instance, Charles’ version made it into the film, and as Hackford saunters from one nuance to another, the film appears to brim with subtlety much more than it did on the bigscreen. Even the cut scenes limn nuances in Charles’ character and Hackford’s attempt to tell a compete story.
The DVD touts the meeting of Foxx and Brother Ray, but their musical pairing is choppy — Foxx is shy, Charles is his playful self, laughing and encouraging Foxx at the piano as the classically trained actor works out a few riffs. But Foxx points out he didn’t want to spend that much time with legend; his role was to play young Ray Charles and not the man he became, suggesting there wasn’t a lot of studio footage of the two laying around.
Hackford guides fans through the film — saying he was glad it took 15 years to get the pic made, because of Foxx’s stellar perf — and the outtakes, all of which he says were cut strictly for time limits.
Helmer has considerable praise for his crew, from the set decorator to the gaffer to his second unit director, and there are occasions when he sheds some intriguing light on his approach to Charles’ life.
Charles’ heroin use, for example, is a constant in the film, and Hackford says he used the addiction to show Charles’ isolation. Indeed, it becomes clear, watching Foxx as Charles recoil from his family and the public whenever he shoots up and slips into darkness.
But Hackford continually points out how many of the episodes in the pic are true, including Charles’ refusal to play a segregated show after a protester asks him not to. Researchers in Georgia have not been able to find evidence of the event nor of his being banned in the state , and Charles made no mention of it in his biography.
A reverential tone permeates the bonus material, which includes two uncut perfs, but none of it tells the Ray Charles story as well as the pic or David Ritz’s fine biography “Brother Ray.” Rhino’s recently released video of a 1963 perf in Brazil, “O-Genio,” captures the onstage genius at a great stage in his life: He had fully assimilated country material into his act, and his big band was still a burning unit at the top of the R&B game. It’s a perf like the one on “O-Genio” that inspired “Ray”; it’s the scene fans should see after they watch the movie and crave the real deal.
Universal will also be releasing a two-disc set that will include a photo journal, an extra 20 minutes of uncut musical perfs and a look at the women in Charles’ life.