King Richard Movie Review
In King Richard, Venus and Serena Williams get the biopic they deserve, except the movie isn’t about them: it’s about their dad, who controlled their lives from the age of four to turn them into two of the most impressive tennis players of all time. The movie argues that “control” is a strong word--enabled is a nicer way of putting it--and for the sake of entertainment value, it’s best to go along with that narrative.
Will Smith turns in his best performance in years as Richard Williams, a dedicated if obsessive man who, to get his family out of Compton, commits his daughters to a regimen to develop them into professional tennis players. Battling the odds--not only their race, but their lack of finances--he proves the skeptics wrong. Smith dives deep into the role, delivering a nearly unrecognizable turn as a man who is both deserving of respect and utterly obnoxious in his narrow-minded conviction.
Smith, unsurprisingly, is the best part of a better-than-average biopic. Translation: he’s the best part of a decent, nice-in-the-moment-but-hardly-revelatory biopic. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, King Richard efficiently walks through several years in the lives of the Williams clan.
The movie relies heavily on Smith to flex his muscles scene by scene, but the rest of the cast, most notably Aunjanue Ellis and Jon Bernthal, are great as well. While both Saniyya Sidney (as Venus) and Demi Singleton (as Serena) are good in their respective roles, neither are much of a force here, a miss given their presence on the court.
Nonetheless, King Richard is an entertaining, fast-paced, feel-good drama, even if it lacks the triumphant sports moments you’d normally expect from a story such as this. As good as Smith is, the movie doesn’t carry a ton of dramatic heft; after all, you know how this one ends.
There are two alternative versions of King Richard that would be more gripping: one, as a straight up sports drama that puts Venus and Serena front and center and culminates in their domination of tennis; and two, as a more critical examination of Richard Williams, a man whose determination is unquestionable even if many of his tactics are quite the opposite. While we get neither of those options, there is still plenty to enjoy with the easy-to-watch, easy-to-like King Richard.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.