Ray | Kinsey

Ray | Kinsey

Call an entertainer’s work “conventional” nowadays and you might receive a gob of spit in your eye. Yet here comes Ray, a biopic about the great soul singer, Ray Charles, and it is as respectful of the conventions of the show-biz screen biography as any movie of the forties or fifties. All the set-pieces of the genre have been slickly packaged by director Taylor Hackford and scriptwriter James L. White: the wounded childhood (little Ray’s trauma at his younger brother’s death and his own blindness), the promise to mama to make good, the appearance of an ancient sage who first puts the little boy’s fingers on the ivories, the discovery of our hero by a shrewd producer, the moment when the hero stumbles upon his own special sound (Ray blends gospel with R&B), the marriage to a Nice Girl, the fall from grace as our hero succumbs to vice (here it’s adultery and drug addiction), the climactic confrontation with the wife when she forces the hero to confront his weaknesses (the law also threatening him with jail unless he shapes up), the Dark Night of the Soul (Ray goes cold turkey and nearly dies of it), and the ultimate triumphs of restored family love, bigger box office, and recognition by the government as a national treasure.

OK, I know I seem to be sneering, but actually I was gripped by this two-and-a-half-hour movie from beginning to end. Why? Was it because most of the clichés actually happened to Ray...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.