As part of my Oscars nominee binge – where I watch every Best Picture nominee prior to the Academy Awards Ceremony on March 28th – I found myself watching the recently released sports biopic King Richard, starring veteran actor Will Smith. When King Richard first received my attention, the title gave the impression that this would be a big budget production of William Shakespeare‘s King Richard III. You can forgive my shock, then, when it turned out to be a film about tennis mega stars Serena (Demi Singleton) and Venus Williams (Saniyya Sidney), and, more importantly, their polarizing father Richard Williams (Will Smith). Here is our LIFE Movie Review for King Richard (2021).
King Richard Movie Review: An Intriguing Sports Biopic About A Flawed Father
Sports Movie Which Focuses on the Manager
In many ways, this film is your everyday, well-made sports movie – think Rocky I, but with boxing gloves traded out for tennis rackets and the streets of Philadelphia replaced by the hood of Compton, California. Additionally, with this movie being centered around Richard, it is more akin to a Rocky movie where Mickey Goldmill is the central protagonist. Yes, in many ways, the Williams sisters take a backseat – with the senior Williams commanding most of the screen time.
Richard grew up in segregated Louisiana, before moving to some of the roughest parts of Compton, CA. He is as grizzled as you might expect and if the streets have taught him anything, it is that the best way to survive there is to get out. Early on in the film, he is regularly seen being intimidated and beaten down by younger gangsters. The treatment he receives, combined with the more natural abilities of his daughters, means it is even more desperate that the Williams family succeeds and gets out of the plot of life they have been so far given. Before the daughters were even born, Williams had written an entire, thesis length plan (of approximately 85 pages) on how his daughters can succeed in the tennis game, so that he, his wife and numerous children can move away from the dangers they face.
Richard Williams’ Portrayal As A Flawed Character Will Leave You Questioning His Intentions
Williams, a former tennis protege himself, knows the game inside out and, from learning from his own mistakes, he knows how to train his daughters. If you follow tennis, you will know he has succeeded; Venus Williams is considered one of the greats of her generation and Serena is considered arguably the greatest of all time – a point which the film makes, with the senior Williams telling Serena she will go down as one of the best ever. However, on numerous occasions, the more critical viewer will be left questioning whether the plan was really for his daughters to succeed, or whether the plan was for his daughters to succeed in making him money. Maybe it was both; his personal greed and lust for vindication being at odds with the personal pride a parent gains when they see their children succeed. This is a common phenomenon in many sports parents and, most certainly, it is one present in Williams throughout King Richard. His arguments with wife, Brandi Williams (Aunjanue Ellis), will only raise your dislike of Richard further.
Whereas most biopics can be seen as “whitewashing” the lives of the central protagonist to make them look good in the eyes of the viewer, King Richard tends to avoid this. Williams is portrayed from the very beginning as a polarizing, often selfish parent who can quite easily come across as someone looking out for his own best interests. It is quite easy to dislike Williams and this is down to not only the good writing which has clearly gone into the film, but also down to Will Smith’s excellent performance in the role of Richard Williams, which was enough to see him nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. Whereas he won’t win, the fact his performance was recognized with a nomination is more than enough to make this film, and his performance, a recommended film and performance. The performance of Jon Bernthal as elite level tennis coach Rick Macci might have been enough to secure a Best Supporting Actor nomination in any other year, also. One major criticism of King Richard, however, is the length of the film; the near two-and-a-half hours being too long for a film of this type. Though the film is entertaining enough to keep you engaged, there might be one or two occasions where you are actively checking your watch to see how much time is left.
Classic Sports Movie Ending
The movie concludes with the 1998 US Open Quarter-Final match between a young Venus Williams and the former World Number 1, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. In a hotly-contested match-up, the type you’d expect to see in a 1xbit bonus promotion, the young Williams lost out to her more experienced rival. Just like in Rocky I, the hero is defeated in a valiant effort which wins over the audience and endears her to a generation of young fans. It is then announced that, following this game, she signed a shoe contract with Reebok for a then 12 million dollars – at just 15 years of age. She would win Wimbledon five times and become the first African-American World Number 1 of the Open Era. Serena would become a twenty-three times Grand Slam Champion – putting her on par with the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic as maybe the greatest player in the history of the sport.
Summary of King Richard Movie Review
We decided to be generous in our movie review for King Richard. If you like sports movies with a strong drama theme, as well as many comedic moments throughout the film, then King Richard might just be the film for you. The actors play their parts well; the writing/script succeeds in creating an engaging story and the film is vastly enjoyable.
8/10 – Well-acted, well-written movie deserving of its outsider status at the Academy Awards. Issues with the length of the film, as well as very small questions of historical accuracy throughout, bring it down to a solid 8/10.
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