• Film
  • Drama
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Best known for directing ‘An Officer and a Gentlemen’, Taylor Hackford has been a lifelong music fan who started his career as a journalist, before making music/concert programmes for US television, later producing ‘La Bamba’ and directing the affectionate Chuck Berry documentary ‘Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll’. His latest such venture – this entertaining, if slightly overlong, biopic of ‘The Genius’, Ray Charles (who died last June) – is the fruit of 15 years of collaboration with the great man and covers the early period of the blind Georgia-born innovator’s 60-year career. Given the wealth of detail in Hackford and James L White’s screenplay – played in endless period tour buses, clubs, halls and recording studios – one thanks heaven the filmmakers decided to end his story in 1966, an apogee of sorts, following Ray’s financially lucrative abandonment of crossover soul (and the good guys at Atlantic Records) for country and his post-bust forswearing of his long-term use of heroin.

It’s a middlebrow affair, but an honourable one. Hackford is keen to impress the importance of Charles’ dirt-poor background, plaguing him with hallucinogenic reminders of his guilt at the accidental drowning of his baby brother and wringing tears out of Sharon Warren’s beady-eyed portrayal of his cruel-to-be-kind mother. But, he kicks the film off with the 17-year-old lying about army service to get a free ride to Seattle, an upfront acknowledgement of wily steel beneath velvet gloves, a stop short of portraying the ruthlessness that garnered him deals better than Sinatra’s. Fans may complain the director never lets the music truly breathe, but the fine cinematography (Pawel Edelman), evocative production design and a gallery of superb performances (topped by Jamie Foxx as the man) more than compensate. 

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday January 21 2005
Duration: 152 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Taylor Hackford
Screenwriter: James L White
Cast: Harry J Lennix
Regina King
Sharon Warren
Clifton Powell
Jamie Foxx
Bokeem Woodbine
Larenz Tate
Terrence Dashon Howard
Kerry Washington
Aunjanue Ellis
Curtis Armstrong
Richard Schiff
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