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Ray *** 1/2

Rating: PG-13

When was the last time the audience clapped at the end of a movie you saw? When was the last time they stood up to move to the music, exclaimed, "Sing it, brother!" in the middle of a song, or left the theater still sobbing?

Every once in a while, a movie will capture the essence of something -- be it an era, an idea, or a person. "Ray" is one of those movies. "Ray" is a biopic of Ray Charles, the celebrated musician who threw himself, heart and soul, into music.

The film follows Charles from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s as he tries to get by as a black blind man doing what he loves -- making music. After years of imitating Nat "King" Cole just to survive, Ray finds his own music. Along the way, he also finds fame, fortune, lovers, and stumbles into the quagmire of the heroin addiction that can't solve his deep-rooted problems.

But while the film unabashedly portrays the truth of Charles's womanizing, heroin addiction, and psychological trauma, the spotlight is on his music. "Ray" won't apologize for portraying the truth of the musician's faults, but it doesn't make them the focus, either. Such candor in approaching the -- gasp! -- music of a musician is not only refreshing; it's moving. This poignant but unapologetically frank picture of the musician could not be achieved without several stunning performances.

The beautiful Kerry Washington ("Save the Last Dance") plays Bee Charles, the kind, intelligent, and devoted woman who adores Ray, marries him, and gives him a family. Her portrayal of the complexities of loving a man like Ray Charles is superb, and her character's passionate sweetness is utterly endearing.

Regina King ("A Cinderella Story," "How Stella Got Her Groove Back") plays Margie Hendrix, the backup singer who becomes Ray's lover and bears his lovechild. Her performance communicates the wonder and love for this man who makes magic through his music.

Playing Ray's mother in the many flashbacks that pepper the film is Sharen Warren. Warren, a newcomer, has a certain presence, intensity, and ability to throw herself into the role that is rarely seen.

But without a doubt, the star of the film is Jamie Foxx ("Ali," "Any Given Sunday"), who has captured the very soul of Ray Charles in his performance. Foxx's swaying, scratching, and passionate sing song speaking voice are impeccable. But what takes the performance from good to incredible is understanding. Foxx isn't merely imitating Ray -- he's putting himself right into the depths of Ray's soul. You'll forget that it's not Ray Charles himself; it may as well be. Foxx's performance truly makes the film.

Ultimately, "Ray" is about the music -- what drives it, why it matters, and what made Ray Charles such a phenomenal musician. It's about a man who loves music more than his heroin, his affairs, and even his family and home. The combination of Foxx's portrayal and Charles's actual voice is a slice of heaven, wrapped up in performances of powerhouse songs like "Hit the Road, Jack."

Whether you're a fan of Ray Charles, unfamiliar with him, or anywhere in between, this truthful and moving film should have you, too, exclaiming, "Sing it, brother!"

Emily Sullivan is a senior at City Honors.

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