I read Armond White of The New York Press every week. I rarely find myself just agreeing or disagreeing with him. My response is usually, "he's so right and he said it better than anyone else" or "he's completely nuts."
This week, in reviewing Ray, I think he hit it out of the park. He's also a little nuts, obsesing on his dislike for Michael Mann's Ali. But in the end, while I have shortcutted it, all too often repeating, "it's too long," White gets to it...
"Committed to balancing chronological order with signs of personality, screenwriter James L. White avoids the bad taste and disingenuous omissions that ruined other recent black pop bios. But Charles' extraordinary story eventually becomes mediocre when it ought to soar—or confront the contradictions of the music biz (remember Little Richards' appearance at the end of the Frankie Lymon flick). White relies on the hoariest bio-pic clichés to depict the gestation of Ray's artistic highpoints (such as the inspired recording of "I Got a Woman," "Hit the Road, Jack," "What Kind of Man Are You?" and the Modern Sounds of Country and Western album). This reduces Charles' art to a consequence of mundane events (Ray's lover's quarrel with his women) or as a mere gesture of banal expediency. It is never acknowledged as the product of truth-telling or mysterious genius. In this sense Ray commits many of the faults of the bio-pics that preceded it. Its significance is in Taylor Hackford's maneuvering past the genre's many ideological obstacles. Thus, I've presented its negative virtues. Ray remains conscientious but unimaginative."
Conscientious but unimaginative... ouch. But accurate.
A good movie... but it never quite dares to be great. And that is a shame, given how much real talent, from the actors to the director, is involved.