Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Story (2004) (USA) (working title)
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for depiction of drug addiction, sexuality and some
Runtime: 152 min
Taylor Hackford, writer, director
Reviewed by Marvin X
Ray is a classic tragic-comedy in the African tradition of all's well that ends well; tragic in the wretched conditions of his childhood with poverty, the drowning of his brother and the crippling blindness that his mother persisted and insisted he overcome; tragic that in adulthood he initially allowed heroin and sex to cripple him and almost destroy his talent and family, but by the end of the movie Ray Charles Robinson becomes the heroic comedian who overcomes all demons and disabilities to become the master of the game, an internationally recognized superstar and innovator who changed the world of music. It is the musical arrangement that makes this story so powerful and softens the task of actor Jamie Foxx because the music essentially tells the story, weaves in and out of events, connects them, finalizes. Ray's music is the history of a generation, the jazz, blues, rock and roll, country, gospel, he simply, clearly and profoundly did it all. What a gift this blind man gave us to see us in our heart of hearts and soul of souls and the world is a better place because Ray walked this earth without seeing-eye dog or cane, seeing with his ears, hands and voice, as when he began his torturous journey on the kitchen floor searching for the cricket, later he let his wife to be know he and we must be able to see with our ears after he pointed out the hummingbird at the window; indeed we can see God if we take a moment to listen, He is there in spite of all the noise around, yea, all the darkness. I remember the first time I was around a blind person and what a revelation it was when I realized she didn't need a light bulb in her room. Who was really blind, she or I, after all, I was the one who needed light!
RAY took us into darkness to better understand the soul in tragic circumstance, the soul that overcomes with pure determination because we see it is only determination that permits RAY to become a success; his persistence to control his destiny is clearly a lesson for any struggling human being, but especially the artist. We see the artist must not only master the show but the show business as well, and any moment he neglects show business he is ripe for robbery as happened in the beginning of his career and even later when he dismissed his assistant for stealing, but even more important is how RAY demanded rights to his music, including ownership of the master tapes. The movie is a how to for young artists.
Jamie Foxx did a masterful job as the blind Ray. I was totally convinced he was Ray and not Jamie.
As I said above, the music made his path easier, providing him with a crutch to stand on but the crutch was after all part of Ray's essence.
As a former addict and director of Recovery Theatre, I was pained at his heroin addiction although I sympathized and empathized because of his disability, after all, I thought, if I were blind I might want some heroin just to get through the night, but we know better, we know and we saw the destructive power of the drug on his person, his art and most importantly, his beautiful family that was his codependent for many years, his wife, later his children, who suffered greatly because they loved him so much. Every addict should see this movie to understand the pain of the codependent because we can never say we've recovered without understanding how we subject those around us in our selfish desire to self destruct. As my New York comrades told me, no excuse is acceptable, none. We were happy to see RAY finally seek recovery, but more importantly the constant flashback to his mother and brother were a demonstration that we must confront demons even deeper than drugs to become holistic. It is after the doctor tells him he needs analysis that we see RAY subjecting himself to self-analysis to process the death of his brother and the truth of his mother whose words "don't be a cripple" were a healing motif throughout the movie. Of course, we could have used more of him enduring the recovery process but we are gratified he stayed clean thereafter.
Sex, his other addiction, was, for all concerned, no less toxic than heroin. As the other woman, Regina King was great, making us realize her pain, especially when pregnant. The question for me is when will American culture accept the other woman, recognize her as a human being, including her children. If gays and lesbians can and will come out of the closet to marry, so must the other woman, and the other man, for that matter. As his wife "on the road," Marge probably spent more time with him than his wife, so why must she suffer non-recognition, a total debasement of her human right to happiness, prompting her to suffer a drug overdose that we know was clearly suicide. Imagine, the highest rate of HIV/AIDS is black women who engage in one night stands rather than submit to polygamy with a man practicing safe sex. If there can be civil unions for gays and lesbians, then the same is proper for persons with multiple partners, or is a person in a relationship with multiple partners less than human? Perhaps, this is the subject for another movie, but RAY suggests it is a question that isn't going away, especially with artists who often discover sex fires the engine of their creativity. Consider all the lyrics Ray gave us on the pussy and dick theme, "Hit the Road, Jack," "Night Time Is The Right Time," "What'd I Say,"et al.
His turn to country music because it tells a story is the reason my mother, a country girl, declared her love for the music. In short, any music genre Ray touched, he turned to gold for himself and his audience.
RAY is a great movie about a great man who shared his creativity with the world, in the process taught us how to transcend musical and physical boundaries, even boundaries of the soul.
Marvin X's essays: In The Crazy House Called America is available from Black Bird Press. Two additional books are planned for publication in 2005 are; In the Land of My Daughters, poems, and Wish I Could Tell You the Truth, essays
Ray Charles Web SIte
Marvin X on AALBC.com
Jamie Foxx The Kingdom Interview