Unchain My Heart

He broke R&B music free of its tiny niche and presented it to people of all colors, sparking a love affair that has lasted for many generations. His music and genius has never grown stale, his tastes and styles expanding from gospel to pop to country and everything in between. His star on the Hollywood walk of fame does little to tell of the epic life that this man has led and given all this, it is sad to see such a great story retold as a cold, lifeless, regrettably boring script.

(Warning: There are very minor spoilers ahead)

It all starts out innocently enough. Ray’s childhood is unfortunate, but his family makes the best of it. He grew up in the confines of a poor Southern town, his single mother barely eeking out a living doing other people’s laundry. Then things get worse. Ray’s brother George drowns in a tub while Ray looks on. Ray loses his sight. Ray has to go away to school. Still, Ray doesn’t get down about all this. Instead, he immerses himself in music. He takes a liking to the piano which he picks up with ease. Unable to read music or see the keys, Ray is blessed with the ability to pick up on a note in an instant. He embraces his gifts and soon finds himself a full time musician, struggling to make a living just like anyone else.

From there, things start to get better for Ray, but the writing only gets worse. The amount of emotion injected into this script is almost nonexistent. It reads like a simple children’s book intended for adults only. See Ray sing. See Ray have sex. See Ray do drugs. See Ray get mad. You are an impartial viewer in Ray’s life. There is no narration to shed light on the details of these events. The film certainly isn’t a documentary. Its just scene after scene, tied together with no real purpose. A flipbook that repeats itself over and over again. You keep expecting someone in the film to have an engaging conversation, but there is no time for such nonsense when you absolutely must show Ray singing along to every single hit in his catalog (believe me, there are a lot).

I found myself not only bored but frustrated with the writer for not putting any effort into the script. For making every character, even Charles himself, a cardboard cutout of the real person. There are no opportunities to connect or associate with the people in Ray’s life. Hell, you can barely even keep track of the billions of them. Lets see… there’s his wife, his two sons, and… that guy. No one is memorable. No event is memorable. The whole thing is just one massive outline of Ray’s life. Someone forgot to fill in the details.

What really began to irk me reading this script is the author’s insistence on focusing heavily on the negative aspects of Ray’s life. Little time is given to his efforts as a civil rights leader. Little time is given to his effect on popular music. Instead, we have the film divided into three easy sections for us. Ray doing drugs. Ray sleeping around. Ray being a major asshole. You wouldn’t think it would be hard to make such a legendary man look good, but by the end of the read, you really dislike the guy altogether. I certainly don’t mind looking on the dark side of people’s lives, but that is really all this movie amounts to. I half expect Ray Charles to run for Governor of California. At least then there would be some explanation for why this ridiculous smear campaign exists.

I really wanted to like this script. I was looking forward to the movie. Now I plan to avoid it like the plague. Its flat, grossly unflattering, and an utter bore to sit through. If you’re a Ray Charles fan, or are even the least bit curious about his enigma, go pick up his autobiography, or look for a documentary on PBS. Don’t hold your breath for ‘Unchain My Heart’, you’ll be sorely disappointed to see two hours of Jamie Foxx lip-synching to Ray’s Greatest Hits and then revisiting his character from ‘Any Given Sunday’. This draft, dated August 16, 2002, is written by James L. White. Based on the life and times of Ray Charles.

Rating: D