Release Date:  October 29, 2004
Rating:  PG-13 for depiction of drug addiction, sexuality and some thematic elements.
Genre:  Drama/Music
Run Time: 2 hr. 32 min.
Director:  Taylor Hackford
Actors:  Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, Clifton Powell, Harry J. Lennix, Curtis Armstrong, Bookeem Woodbine, Aunjanue Ellis, Sharon Warren, C.J. Sanders

The life of Ray Charles is a very compelling story, but it’s not always pretty.  When a dirt-poor, blind boy from the rural, segregated South becomes one of the most legendary singers of all time, however, it’s definitely worth watching – especially when the film is a sure-fire, Oscar-winner on multiple counts.

Born in Albany, Ga. in 1930, Ray Charles Robinson witnessed the death of his brother at 5 then went blind at 7. Charles never knew his father, and his mother, who sent him 160 miles away to a school for the blind, died while he was gone.  Despite segregation, lack of money and his inability to see, Charles crossed the country on a Greyhound bus at the age of 17 and moved to Seattle, where he began to play music.

Overcoming his handicap – by always being paid in singles, for example, and relying upon his other four senses – was just one of the challenges Charles faced, which included being ignored by fellow musicians who didn’t want to “babysit a blind man.” The pressures and loneliness of the road and the memories of his brother’s death – which Charles blamed himself for – eventually led him to try heroin.  So, even as Charles’ career was on the rise, his addiction was on the down-low, and it would take 17 years to conquer it.  Also, despite a loving wife and children, Charles was most likely a sex addict.  A recent segment of “60 Minutes” reported that he had fathered nine children by five different women, in addition to dozens of other affairs.  But despite it all, Charles became one of the greatest musicians of all time.  He was also one of the first to cross over to mainstream pop from the black-dominated rhythm &blues, becoming a worldwide legend.

Jamie Foxx (“Any Given Sunday,” “Ali”), who made his career in comedy, has always performed drama well, but his recent role in “Collateral” proved he could hold his own against heavyweight A-list actors like Tom Cruise.  Now, Foxx is poised to become one himself.  He doesn’t so much imitate the legend; he becomes him.  Foxx captures Charles’ many idiosyncratic gestures, including the swaying walk, the wide grin and the slow shaking of his head.  But his performance is so much more than just mannerisms.  Rarely have I seen an actor so deserving of the Best Actor Oscar.

It’s hard to recognize the teenage mom from “Save the Last Dance” in Kerry Washington’s (“The Human Stain,” “Against the Ropes”) sweet-natured Della Bea. Her transformation into Ray’s faithful, longsuffering wife is indicative of how talented this actress really is. Equally compelling is Regina King (“A Cinderella Story,” “Jerry McGuire”) as Ray’s discarded mistress and Clifton Powell (“Never Die Alone”) as Ray’s early music partner and road manager.  Sharon Warren, as Ray’s determined single mother who lives to give her children a better life, brought tears to my eyes.