King Richard

Directed By Reinaldo Marcus Green

Starring – Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal

The Plot – A look at how tennis superstars Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena Williams (Demi Singleton) became the tennis phenoms they are after the expert tutilege of coaching from their father Richard Williams (Smith).

Rated PG-13 for some violence, strong adult language, a sexual reference and brief drug references

KING RICHARD – Official “Be Alive” Trailer – YouTube


– Sensational script. This is anything but your typical formulaic biopic, and much of the credit to that designation goes to a screenplay that is about so many things, but at its core a tenderly intimate depiction of the importance of fatherhood to the youths they mold. It’s very much a loveletter to Richard Williams, as well as fathers like him everywhere, whose occasional overbearing instances give way to a consistency of love and knowledge that he unloads on each of his five children, lending themselves to no shortage of nourishing family instances between them that makes them this unstoppable front when continuously fighting together. In addition to this, Green not only does a great job illustrating the Williams’ sisters meteoric rise to fame, but also the range of responsibilities and consequences that spring from such universal praise at such a vulnerable age. Because of such, topics like racism, teenage stardom, and financial vultures are touched on in various amounts of depictions, that each play a concise and educational imprint on the Williams’ sisters and the audience alike, while highlighting the importance of family, who seem like the only ones who have these girls’ best interest at heart through and through.

– Trail-blazing tone. As to where most biopics revel in the disparaging depression that compels dramatic heft, “King Richard” instead prides itself with this inspiring consistency that carries optimism in its various adversities. There are pocketed moments of drama littered casually throughout the narrative, but the script refuses to meander with them in a way that defines the characters, nor the magnitude of their continuous struggles, instead attacking it with the same ferocity and perseverance that Richard himself leads with by example, while crafting several hearty life lessons of trial and error along the way. It gives the film such an approachability and light-hearted appeal to its storytelling that really goes a long way in embodying the personality of its titular character, and for once gives us a true story where the film refuses to wallow in the grief of miscalculated opportunities or internal conflicts, instead opting for a family-first dynamic that is so warm and nourishing to the concept of ambitions.

– Remarkable performances. While it should come as no surprise that Smith will earn another Oscar nomination for his endearing work as Richard, it’s the collective ensemble that takes the load of responsibility off of his broad shoulders. On a youthful presence, the tag team of Sidney and Singleton wholeheartedly garner the essence of these sisters with a balance of innocence and eagerness that compliment the near-perfect likenesses of their appearances to those of their adult celebrity counterparts seamlessly. It’s only enhanced by the adult side of the spectrum, where an eye-opening, scene-stealing performance from Aunjanue Ellis lends itself to some dramatic chops in the form of these long-winded watery diatribes, and cementing what I hope is an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, which I feel she emphatically deserves. But the center stage definitely belongs to Smith, once more, as his depiction of Richard, with all of its accents and mannerisms lends itself to one of his more commanding presences that he’s delivered since “The Pursuit of Happiness”. It’s not a completely transformative experience, as the limitless charisma of Smith still veers out with many metaphorical winks and nods to the audience who’ve loved him for decades, but it does prove the depths Will is willing to take to embody the believability of the character, proving in his 76th acting role to date, the best may still be yet to come.

– Rich presentation. Adding to the inspiring consistency of the movie’s tonal enveloping, is cinematographer Robert Elswit’s spell-binding aesthetic impulses, which give way to a warm and absorbing engagement, on and off the courts. Elswit uses as much of the sunbaked color correction to exude class and sophistication in the upper class scenery that makes up much of the film’s geographic shift during the film’s second half, but it’s what Robert does with the lens itself that is most enthralling during physical instances. The tennis sequences themselves are shot with a compelling duality, far and wide, that not only allows the audience to easily interpret with the impeccable consistency of their various cuts, but also depicts tennis to the degree of difficulty that it takes in mastering so many unique positions on the court. It doesn’t use immersing stature as a distracting gimmick, but one that attains the intensity of the physicality at the forefront of the spectrum, taking a sport that I typically find boring, and fleshing it out to be this urgent test of wills, where the mental and physical games are exhausted in their resources.

– Ample time. The story of Venus, Serena, and Richard is an expansive one, full of pivotal details and subtle nuances that cement the characters for who they eventually become, and what I love is that each of these aspects materialize naturally in the engagement of a near two-and-a-half hour screenplay. This is where Green really allows himself and the audience to get lost in the heat of the moment, as he unloads a trail of breadcrumbs that take their time veering us to the potential destination of the conflict that we know will eventually materialize with all of these combustible elements influencing the pot, allowing us to live and grow with the characters in a way that we see their intentions before they ever materialize in the heat of their deliveries. In addition to this, the pacing itself, despite the ambitious run time, constantly kept me gripped and invested in the allure of the storytelling, as a result of the importance of each sequence, that I felt shouldn’t be trimmed or omitted for the sake of a slim narrative. Doing so would undercut much of the naturalistic quality that constantly persists in the carefree approach to its storytelling, and overstep many of the pivotal instances in the lives of these girls, who wouldn’t be where they are today without the guiding hands of their neurotic father to teach them right from wrong.

– Forgotten framing. Because we’re so enveloped in the depths of the narrative between this family embarking on a life-changing circumstance, we almost forget that the film is lending itself to a period piece, but not necessarily one the production requires as a distracting gimmick of visual coherence. There are instances where the 90’s can be felt, mainly in the soundtrack and the occasional TV news story, which outlines social commentary in the environment of Compton, California, without ever taking away focus from the primary plot. As for that soundtrack, the unexpected glee from various grunge favorites involving Stone Temple Pilots or Green Day, emitted with them a subconscious alienation for the Williams family that made this world feel like a completely unpaved path for their social and cultural status, all the while conveying itself as a touch of scope from inside of this precise place in time that audibly feels like planets away from where we currently find ourselves.

– Unpredictable instances. Whether you’re a tennis fan or not, I feel like the film, as well as the story of Venus and Serena, will appeal to a mainstream audience, and help bridge the gap with the way black athletes are unfortunately depicted in a barrage of sports films. For my money, and my overall lack of knowledge with the first act of their respective careers, the film not only did a great job in articulating exposition in a way that intentionally and unintentionally fed into the sibling rivalry between them, but also produced a few instances of deviated expectations that made the experience all the more rewarding for the growth of the characters. This is especially pertaining to the climactic final game for Venus, who is tasked with playing the number one player in the world for her particular age bracket, and the game takes more than a few unforeseen directions than I was even remotely expecting. It made the game feel all the more compelling because I didn’t understand the magnitude of the stakes until this insightful look behind the scenes painted a contrasting picture, proving that tennis is anything but a drama-free sport where psychology is played and weighed as a condemning hand.

– Parting lessons. Whether from a celebrity standpoint or a humane one, the film imparts many valuable life teachings that transcends its appeal from an entertaining, to an insightful watch, and cements the classic status in itself from the lessons that feel as resonating on us as they do on the Williams sisters themselves. This comes in the way of pay-offs for arc’s that establish meaning without it ever feeling preachy or heavy-handed in a way they use dialogue to hammer home the intention. Instead the experience of the characters lend themselves to an outlining bigger picture that is easily interpretable from an outsider’s perspective, blanketing us with the kind of clarity that we can interpret as being the one character who has experienced literally everything pertaining to the events that make up the entirety of this story. When I recommend films to people, my critiques are only there as a scoring board for my own personal interests to a film, but this is a case where technicality takes a backseat to invigorating inspiration, taking two generational talents like Venus and Serena, and fleshing them out with the kind of humanity that makes them not only easily relatable in many of the same trials and tribulations that we experience every day, but also inspiring for how they were able to overcome many of the elements that were out of their control.



– Unfulfilled arc. I expect to be in the minority here, but the side of Serena’s storytelling left more to be desired when compared in scope to the faithful consistency of Venus at the forefront of this narrative. Such an intention obviously mirrors Richard’s own initial ignorance of Serena, whom he eventually came to understand as being the successor to her sister’s initial dominance, but for the entirety of the second act it leaves Serena feeling like a supporting character in her own movie, only occasionally popping in when it’s absolutely required, or when the film nearly forgets that this phenom is drifting somewhere in the background of this unconventional biopic. It’s a strange direction considering Serena herself would go on to be a far superior player than her sister, but because Venus’ age allowed her to transition her brand appeal first, the former is never explored in a way that equally balances the playing field, underscoring the magnitude of the generational talent that persisted under the same roof of this talented-but-complex American family.

My Grade: 9/10 or A

One thought on “King Richard

  1. Man. I wanted to love this one so badly and I certainly agree with many of the praises that you brought up. I love that you didn’t just focus on Will Smith’s impressive performance cause it’s the efforts of the entire cast that keep this film engaging, emotional, and believable. The presentation is also really strong which pairs well with the riveting which kept the film mostly engaging. I also love just how inspiring the film is as a whole with a more optimistic tone like you mentioned. With that said, I will say that I personally thought that the story was formulaic and predictable including the ending match which I saw coming despite having next to no knowledge of tennis at all. I do agree with your negative as well since I don’t think the film did a good job balancing out their screentime. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked this one and I hope it gets some Oscar nominations. I’m so glad that you managed to have a nearly faultless experience with this one cause it definitely sounds like one of your heavy hitters of the year. Fantastic work!

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