The story takes its audience from the beginning of Charles' professional career to the point that he is an unquestioned superstar. (A brief montage of pictures covers the rest of his life.) Frequent flashbacks to a difficult childhood ultimately help explain the sometimes ruthless musician. This can also be seen as a story of overcoming adversity as Charles battled his drug addiction and the difficulties that come with being blind.
It takes time, possibly a touch too much time, to begin to grasp the personality of Charles as depicted in the movie. Womanizing, drug addiction, and a business acumen seemingly devoid of loyalty, were predominate characteristics of a person the viewer is often left apathetic about. But as flashbacks and later scenes reveal all he went through — a childhood that included watching his younger brother die and going blind not long thereafter, along with numerous incidents in which trusted associates either leave him out of things or blatantly try take advantage of him — the man becomes more and more understandable.
The flashbacks were some of the most poignant scenes in the film. His mother, played by Sharon Warren, is shown as an incredibly strong woman, fully capable of preparing her son for the difficulties ahead. C.J. Sanders, playing young Ray, turned in an overlooked performance of such a young man slowly losing his sight. A late scene between Jamie Foxx (Ray) and Warren (with Terrone Bell playing Ray's dead brother, George), never fully explained but shown almost as a hallucination of the older Ray as he goes through withdraw, is very powerful.
As the movie unfolded, I thought that while Foxx was good, the hype that surrounded his performance was overblown. However, the man never missed a step, never offered an untrue moment in depicting the very independent, determined yet vulnerable Charles. In one of the most worthwhile DVD extras I've seen, footage of Charles (who was involved with the film before he died) and Foxx drove home the remarkably accurate portrayal the actor offered — from the musician's physical gyrations while performing to his unique speech pattern.
Ray takes a while to have its full impact, but is nonetheless very much worth watching.