REVIEW: King Richard (2021)

Will Smith as the titular character (right) with the Williams sisters (played by Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney) in KING RICHARD — PHOTO: Warner Bros.

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green — Screenplay by Zach Baylin.

Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard tells the story of how Richard Williams (played by Will Smith) helped to shepherd and develop the Williams sisters — Venus (played by Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (played by Demi Singleton) — on their journey to tennis stardom. His determination to make a better life for his daughters brought them far, but in order for them to take the final steps to superstardom, he had to learn how to step back a bit.

The first thing that people have to overcome when they watch this film is the immediate and perfectly natural complaint that this movie might’ve been more interesting if it were entirely about the Williams sisters and not as focused on their father. I think a lot of good films can be made about the Williams sisters, who executively produced this film, but the aim of this film appears to be more about highlighting the determination and inspiration that this story unveils. This is a portrait of a man who persevered and helped his daughters to succeed in spite of several setbacks or mountains to climb. I also think, to the film’s credit, that it isn’t an entirely one-sided and all-positive portrait, it shows some of the more controversial sides of the character, or individual, as well.

The film is a bit too long, though. Green shouldn’t need 145 minutes to tell this story of the Williams sisters’ beginnings. Green does have a lot more that he wants to do, though, and I do appreciate that the film, at least to some extent, decides to explore Richard Williams’ marriage and past, which is clearly more complex than the opening of the film would indicate. However, there could — and perhaps should — have been more of a focus on this in the film. But the film, truthfully, is more about his heart, his plan, and his methods than his previous difficulties. That said, I think Aunjanue Ellis, who plays the sisters’ mother, has some quite good scenes where she confronts the titular character in ways that make the film feel more substantial. She and Jon Bernthal are the film’s secret weapons, with the latter actor delivering a really charming supporting performance.

The one major talking point with this film, though, is the performance delivered by Will Smith. Smith is clearly fully committed to this role, and, even though he isn’t unrecognizable, he does look the part. It is a complete performance, and, without a shadow of a doubt, one of his very best (certainly the best in years). Smith made me laugh, he brought me to tears, and, more than that, he both elevates the film and helps it to completely engross you in what without him would have been a decent but fairly unremarkable sports drama. But this is, thankfully, more than that, which helps to make it never be boring in spite of the excessive runtime. Ultimately, this is a deeply sweet, inspiring, and undoubtedly crowd-pleasing sports biopic with a magnificent performance at the center of it. I’m not sure it’ll stick with you for years and years, but it is a very likable film.

8 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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