Hey folks, Harry here... This is a curiousity for me. I absolutely love Ray Charles' music and actually think that Jaime Foxx has the right look to play the young Ray Charles. His performance in ANY GIVEN SUNDAY was pretty strong, but I don't believe I've ever seen anything he's done that would test him the way this story would. If you don't know much about Ray Charles' life, well... there's lots of spoilers here, so beware, but it sounds like a really solid little independent film... Hey... It's got Willow in it!
"Unchain my heart test" screening(Ray Charles biopic)
Greetings to the illustrious Mr. Harry Knowles,
I'm writing you tonight to tell you about a surprisingly great movie I just attended a test screening for that goes by the name of "Unchain My heart".
I've written you before and you even published one of my fast and the furious reviews(way back on Valentine's Day 2001. I believe i was going by Booboo then).
For the uninitiated, Unchain my heart is in a nutshell, a biography about Ray Charles, one of the greatest R and B/Jazz singers of the 20th Century. He's played by Jaime Foxx. Yes, I realize about half to three fourths of you just went,"Jaime foxx? FEH, he sucks. I'm not watching this tripe". Believe me, I was thinking the same thing to a degree when i attended this screening tonight and I have to tell you, I was pleasantly surprised.
I got my two screening tickets when I went to see Kill Bill Vol. I on Saturday night with a buddy of mine at the Amc Barrywoods 24 in Kansas City, Missouri. When we were first offered the tickets and told what the film was and who was in it, my friend chuckled and declined but out of curiosity, I accepted said tickets. So the next step for me was getting someone to go with me to see a Ray Charles movie starring Jaime Foxx. Nobody wanted to go...except my parents. My dad was working late so he couldn't go, so I took my mom instead.
We arrived there tonight at around 6:25PM or so(the movie was to began at 7PM) and boy was it packed. 300 or so seat theatre about 90 percent full(there were a few scattered seats that were sealed off. We were told,"those are for the filmakers". If they WERE for them, we never saw them and they were never announced to us which leads me to believe that they were in attendance at some point and went in and out of the crowd in disguise to gauge reaction to the film). Pretty mixed crowd too. I'd even say it was about half black and half white with a few other nationalities mixed in.
Pretty soon, some marketing guy came in and told us that this was a workprint, might be some sound issues, yada yada yada, etc. And then the movie started(no trailers or anything. remember, test screening).
I really didn't know what to expect from this but what i got was pretty good. Basically the film follows the story of Ray's gradual rise to fame in the 50's and 60's, how he met his wife, how he dealt with his mistresses(ladies on the side), his heroin addiction, and most importantly his feelings about the death of his younger brother and his mother. The latter was told in flashbacks that were interspersed between the regular narrative scenes.
The Acting is pretty good and in some cases, great. We'll start with Jaime Foxx. Admittedly, the first few minutes or so all i was thinking was,"hehehe, Jaime sounds like he's doing an impression of ray charles ala In living color or something" and I could tell the audience was thinking similar things at first because people laughed at damn near everything that came out of his mouth for the first few minutes. It was just sorta jarring to see Foxx act like Ray Charles. But little by little we all warmed up to it and graduatlly as the film progressed, Foxx ended up giving probably his best performance as an actor thus far. Great work by him. I wasn't blown away, neccesarily, but if Will Smith can get a nod for a much less effective turn as Ali, Foxx might be able to manage one as well.
The supporting roles were equally well cast. Kerry Washington(who played Sean Willaim Thomas's sister in "Save the last dance") plays Ray's wife and she's just wonderful. Washington(who i've NEVER seen look this cute. I swear she's just adorable here) brings a lot of heart to the role and i would even go as far as to say this is a real breakout performance for her. She's a star in the making. Also good are Aunjune Ellis as one of Ray's other girlfriends("Men of Honor"), Harry Lennix as a club announcer("Matrix Reloaded), and umm...Eddie Murphy's brother lol as Ray's manager(sorry, mr. murphy, I couldn't remember your name but you did good work here). But the REAL story in the supporting actors is Regina King. She's come a LONG way since 227 hasn't she? Now, when I first heard she was in the film, I thought,"ehhh..doesn't she play somebody's love interest in every movie with african-americans", and yes, that's still kinda true BUT it matters not. Her performance in this movie is her best yet. Out of all the performances in the movie, she is the only one i think could WIN an Oscar. Just excellant. When you get to the "hit the road jack" scene, you'll know what I mean.
Speaking of "hit the road jack", this film had a ton of really entertaining musical numbers. We get to hear all of Ray's greatest hits and how a lot of them came to be. We get tons of scenes inside recording studios and clubs(the focuse group i attended after the show all agreed how great these scenes were). This was one of the film's biggest strenghths.
Now here's where I go into some of the negatives. Okay, first of all, the flashbacks. For the most part, they were good. Throughout the film, Ray would periodically have flashbacks to his youth, his mother, and his younger brother and the events surrounding his brothers untimely death. Like I said, they worked for the most part...until the climax of the film. I won't spoil it for you, but for me, it just felt very forced. Almost like the writers didn't know how to end the film so they threw that on.
Another problem with the movie is the resolution of Ray's heroin addiction. When he goes to rehab we get super directorial druggie trip cliche' city. The director just kinda shook the camera a lot to try to illustrate Ray's withdrawl and it felt very been there, done that to me.
Also, as decent an actor as I think he is, Larenz Tate's small part as a young Quincy Jones didn't work for me. It's not that he was bad, it's just i'm tired of seeing Tate play like 17-24 year old kids. How old is he now, like 28? He's not THAT young. I think it's time for him to step into some more mature roles.
Another BIG problem for me(Most people didn't see it like I did but what the hell, it's my review right?) was that the first 30-40 minutes were TOO humorous. It was like a comedy almost and I wanted more of a dramedy feel. Once Ray gets married and gets his record deal with Atlantic records, it's wonderful from start to finish. Perfect mix of drama and comedy.
Also, although these weren't problems for me, a LOT of people had issues with the lenght of the film. It clocked in at something like 2 hours and 35 minutes and the audience i was with seem to be growing restless a little after 2 hours in(not all, but just a few). STill, even those who called it too long said it was a great movie.
AT the focuse group afterwards, we discussed our various likes and dislikes and people were strongly positive about the film. The biggest gripe for people was the length and others felt his heroin addiction was too big of an issue and there needed to be more about his marital life(he spends more time with his girl on the side, regina king in the movie than he did with his wife).
Despite all those little quibbles, it's still a great film. I talked with one of the marketing guys and he told me they dont' have a studio backing the film...yet, but i don't think it will be a problem to find one. The toughest part will be marketing a serious Jaime Foxx film about Ray charles with a title like "unchain my heart"(I wouldn't change the title though. not after seeing the film. trust me on that one).
In closing, I'll just reiterate that "Unchain my heart" is a very good movie if you give it a chance.
On a scale of 1-10, it would rank about an 8.5
If you'd like to read more of MY reviews or my compatriots(themovieman who is the runner of our site, Mr. White, and MovieCritic Guy), go to this address
I go by the name of Xmenfan. Hope you've enjoyed my review :)