Jamie Foxx

R is for Ray (2004)

Biopic about rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx), from his humble beginnings in the South, where he went blind at age seven, to his rise to stardom during the 1950s and 1960s.

I knew little about Ray Charles before watching this film. In fact, all I knew was the name, I didn’t even know he was blind, and I wasn’t even sure if I knew any of his songs. Turns out I did though because Ray Charles composed and performed so many songs that have transcended time and are so easily recognisable.

Ray follows Ray Charles’s life from his early twenties as he tries to make it in the music business. Along the way he meets a lot of different people, businessmen and musicians, and it’s sad that there were so many people that were willing to try and take advantage of him because he was blind, and therefore in their eyes stupid and defenceless. It soon becomes clear that Charles knows his own mind and will stand up for himself, even if that might hurt people who do care about him. It’s through flashbacks you learn more about Charles’s childhood, how he became blind, and how it was his mother who did what she could to instil a desire in him to not be dependent on anyone.

Jamie Foxx really is the heart and soul of this movie. He gives an incredible performance, full of charm and charisma but also has a steely edge too when needed. After watching Ray, I read how Foxx would have his eyes glued shut each day so he could really immerse himself into the role and put himself in Ray Charles’s shoes.

Foxx has great chemistry with the various women in the film, notably Kerry Washington as Charles’s wife Della Bea Robinson and Regina King as one of his many mistresses, Margie Hendricks, but he also has great chemistry with his band and singers on stage. The scenes where Foxx performs on stage as Ray Charles are magic. They are fun and dynamic, and you can feel the energy from the crowds watching him, it helps that the songs are great too.

While Ray does follow Ray Charles’s rise to stardom, the film ends rather suddenly. There feels like there’s so much more of Ray Charles’s story left to tell but instead it sums it up in a few lines of credits. Obviously, the film had to end sometime, and its runtime was already two and a half hours, but to end so suddenly after a major event in Ray Charles’s life seemed ill timed.

Ray is an engrossing biopic about a complex and interesting man. The music and Foxx’s performance are both fantastic and make Ray compelling viewing. 4/5.

J is for Jarhead (2005)

True story about US marine sniper Anthony Swofford’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) experience in the Gulf War. As he and his unit are stationed in the Persian Gulf for months on end with little chance of seeing any action, he struggles with thoughts that his girlfriend back home is cheating on him and his mental state deteriorates.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a fantastic lead and Swofford is a compelling character that your eyes are drawn to whenever he’s on screen. The moments of intensity when he loses it are as scary as the dead look in his eyes when his superior Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx) is reprimanding him. The supporting cast are great too which include Peter Sarsgaard as Swofford’s spotter and Lucas Black as a marine who criticises the politics of the conflict and the often-faulty equipment they are given.

Seeing how Swofford and the others cope, or don’t, with the monotony of waiting in a desert for something to do and how their idea of war is vastly different to the reality, is interesting. Especially as even if you see no or little action, your mind and body are still almost constantly focussed in order to react at any second if needed.

That being said, it’s difficult to figure out what this film is trying to say and who you’re supposed to be sympathising with. So many of the men are eager to kill an unknown enemy and are desperate to see action. It’s a bloodlust that’s uncomfortable to watch but when you see the environment that that attitude is bred in it’s hard to see how anyone wouldn’t go almost feral. The arduous bootcamp, where superior officers belittle, abuse and yell at the soldiers, forces the men to develop thick skin and a whole other way at looking at the world.

It’s understandable that those on the frontline need to be tough and capable, but to the extents that the men are pushed to are debatable. Plus, it’s like those in charge whose rhetoric is treated as gospel don’t learn that their actions have consequences, and superior officers are almost surprised when their men act out due to boredom or depravity.

No soldier deserves the abuse they receive by their superior officers or their fellow soldiers. And there’s no denying the effects of war, whether they see action or not, can be incredibly mentally taxing. However, are these all good men who are mistreated or lied to by the system they joined up to? Or do some of them use their training and perceived superiority in order to act however they wish? Perhaps in some cases it’s both, and maybe it’s a good thing that Jarhead leaves that decision up to the viewer.

Jarhead is a well-shot film with good performances. It can be tense and unsettling and the way it gives an unflinching look at a soldier’s life during war can make you take a long, hard look at the military system as a whole. 3/5.