Director Taylor Hackford has had a stellar career, having directed such notable films as “An Officer and a Gentleman,” “Against All Odds,” Delores Claiborne,” “The Devil’s Advocate” and “Proof of Life.”  He also directed “La Bamba” and “Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll,” an acclaimed music documentary.  So it is not surprising that Hackford would do such an great job with “Ray,” which will likely land him a coveted “Best Director” Oscar nomination.  After 15 years of working with Charles on the production, it would certainly be well-earned.  The result is a moving film that portrays racism and segregation without the usual caricatures, showing honest whites and dishonest blacks alike, while also giving you a sense of how devastating it was to live in a world divided by segregation.  And, the story behind the creation of Charles’ hit, “What’d I Say” is worth the price of admission alone.

The film isn’t perfect.  It ends in 1965, after Charles’ got free from heroin, with epilogue-like mentions of his 18 GRAMMY Awards, 75 albums and 76 bestselling singles.  The film dwells too long on his heroin addiction and portrays only two of his mistresses, implying that he had a child with only one.  It also ignores Charles’ first marriage, which lasted just a year, giving the false impression that his marriage to Della Bea (who was actually one of his backup singers) was his first – and that it lasted.  Sadly, their marriage also ended in divorce, after 22 years and three children. 

The film also operates from a staunchly humanist worldview.  Despite several scenes in church – and several mentions of God – Charles is portrayed as an unbeliever who doubts that the Lord has ever been on his side.  God is never presented as a solution or help to any of life’s problems, so whether Charles embraced Christ before his death is a matter of speculation.  He’s still presented as a very likeable character who was not immune to noble deeds, however.  For example, in a move that made national headlines, Charles refused to play in Georgia under the Jim Crow segregation laws – a move that fueled the Civil Rights movement and eventually won him a public apology as well as the honor of an official state song, “Georgia On My Mind.”  Charles also donated some $20 million during his lifetime to non-profit organizations for the blind, schools and universities.

“Don’t let anyone turn you into a cripple,” his mother said.  “Don’t become no charity case.  You stand on your own two feet.”

Her advice is excellent and certainly worthy of emulating, particularly in today’s entitlement-bound culture.  But the overall message of the film – that we are all alone in the world, and cannot rely on God to help – is a sad one, especially as it takes place in the African-American community, where faith in Christ has long been a strong foundation.

“Ray” will very likely to be nominated for “Best Picture” and “Best Cinematography” Oscars, among others.  “Best Soundtrack” is a given, since Charles recorded and sang the music.  Polish cinematographer Pawal Edelman, who filmed “The Pianist,” has also done an arresting job.  Particularly powerful are his flashback scenes to Ray’s childhood, with its explosive colors, as well as artistic shots like the opening one, of the piano reflected in Ray’s glasses.  And Stephen Altman’s sets, which move us from rural-poor Florida in the 40s to the big-city 60s with convincing ease, are eye-catching.