‘King Richard’ is a Winner in Straight Sets

KING RICHARD, from left: Demi Singleton, as Serena Williams, Saniyya Sidney, as Venus Williams, Will Smith, as Richard Williams, 2021. ph: Chiabella James /© Warner Bros. /Courtesy Everett Collection

Julien Neaves, Editor

I have followed Will Smith’s acting career from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (which is getting a gritty reboot for some reason) to his decades of movie stardom. And while I generally enjoy the charming, comedic persona he brings to many roles (Suicide Squad’s Deadshot being one of the exceptions) he has shown time and again that he is a very capable dramatic actor (Six Degrees of Separation, Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness to name a few). And in that vein his performance in 2021 sports biopic King Richard is one of his finest yet.

Smith plays the titular Richard Williams, father and coach of tennis superstar sisters Venus and Serena Williams. The film begins with the family financially struggling and pre-fame all the way up to Venus participating in a major tennis match. Smith is at the top of his game here (no pun intended). He disappears into the role of a beaten-down (literally and figuratively) but driven man with the single-minded goal of seeing his daughters rise to the top of the tennis world. There is a little comedy here but it is heavy and acerbic.

The face you make when someone feeding you a plate of crap and they expect you to eat it

And the presentation of “King Richard” is a balanced one, presenting a man of great vision and determination but at times selfish, inflexible and dismissive. While he accomplishes a lot for his daughters and his family he makes mistakes along the way. And there is a nuance and depth to the performance where you can understand and root for him, even when is being obstinate and implacable.

Smith also benefits from working off his fellow cast members who put in stellar work. Aunjanue Ellis (Undercover Brother, Lovecraft Country) is a rock as Richard’s wife and co-coach Oracene “Brandy” Williams, Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, The Punisher) brings a lot of wit to his role as tennis coach Rick Macci, and young actresses Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton bring such a believability and authenticity to their roles as Venus and Serena respectively, that at times you wonder if you’re watching a documentary (in a good way).

You may be cool, but you’ll never be young Venus cool

I expected the film to be a strong tennis drama so it was no surprise that it delivers in that respect. But I was not expecting director Reinaldo Marcus Green to deliver a film that is so funny, thrilling, human and beautifully inspirational.

A fitting tribute to an incredible real life story. And I do expect to see some award nods for Smith and possibly others as well.

Editor Jules’s Score: 9 out of 10

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Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.