Jamie Foxx, Regina King, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Sharon Warren
One of Ray Charles's biggest hits was "You Don't Know Me." After watching this compelling version of his life story, you will indeed know him in all his maddening complexity. Besides being a musical genius, Charles was also a heroin addict, an adulterer and an absent father. What Ray does, as skillfully directed and conceived by Taylor Hackford (Proof of Life), is take the full measure of the man. Sparked by a galvanizing performance in the title role by Foxx, Ray shows how the singer-songwriter triumphed over his own failings to leave an indelible mark on American music prior to his death last June.
Born Ray Charles Robinson in 1930 in dirt-poor rural Georgia, he lost his sight at age 7 shortly after the accidental drowning of his younger brother, a death that haunted him for years. As an adult, he knocked around with bands, playing mostly to black audiences before scoring a hit with "I Got a Woman" in 1955. After that, his soulful voice reigned on the charts for decades with classics such as "What'd I Say," "Georgia on My Mind," "Hit the Road Jack," and more.
Ray is full of energy, raucous good feeling and a generous sampling of memorable tunes (Foxx lip-synchs to Charles's voice on most numbers). But it also shows the cost, especially as Charles climbs fame's ladder, of his success—to himself, his wife (Washington), lovers, loyal manager and bandmates. Foxx is phenomenal, capturing not only Charles's distinctive walk and sideways rocking motion at the piano but also the conflicting impulses that drove the singer. As Charles's put-upon wife, Washington is impressive. And the redoubtable King, playing the quicksilver Margie Hendricks, one of Charles's backup singers and mistresses, blows the roof off the joint every time she's onscreen. (PG-13)
Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Trevor Reznik has barely slept in a year, is gasp-out-loud gaunt (actor Bale dropped 63 lbs. for the role) and keeps finding ominous notes ("Who are you?") scrawled on yellow Post-its stuck to his refrigerator. At work—he's a machinist—his colleagues are turning against him and a hulking, grinning bald man seems to be tailing him. What's going on? Both more and less than meets the eye.
[The Machinist], an intriguing thriller by director Brad Anderson (Session 9), is about a man burdened with a secret that is literally consuming him. Everything hinges on a big revelation at the end, one worthy of the buildup. Bale gives a haunting performance, effectively conveying the paranoia of a man at war with himself, but one can't completely get over the fact that he is an actor who has starved himself to a dangerous state just for the sake of a part. Is any movie worth it? (R)
Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall
Thank the movie gods for Lauren Bacall. She comes to the rescue with the perfect wisecrack just when this solemn drama—about a young widow named Anna (Kidman) who comes to believe that her dead husband has returned as a 10-year-old boy—becomes almost too full of would-be meaningful pregnant pauses to bear. "So, how is Mr. Reincarnation enjoying his cake?" croaks Bacall (playing Anna's wealthy mother), arching a brow, as the boy (Bright) digs into a slice.
Birth is an odd one. It is simultaneously affecting and annoying. A fairy tale for grown-ups, the film gives away its big secret early—though a few viewers may not catch on—so it becomes less a tale of suspense than a dissection of Anna's devolving emotional state. Fortunately, Kidman is up to the task. She ably carries the film, convincingly portraying a woman willing to jettison her new adoring fiancé (Huston) for what seems prima facie an absurd shot at reliving a lost love. Director-cowriter Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) misses here, but give him credit for trying something different. (R)