Is it time to give Will Smith his Oscar now? Smith has given plenty of quality performances over the years and even some caught the attention of the Academy. But now he takes on what might be his best role to date as the patriarch of the Williams family for which two legendary tennis stars are members. This film tells the story of Richard Williams and his driven mission to make his children the best and have his daughters become the next generation of star athletes. From the trailers, this seems like a perfect and supportive endeavor, but the film does paint a harder edge to Williams’ methods.
When it comes down to it, does King Richard deliver a compelling and engrossing experience? Reinaldo Marcus Green does plenty of great things on the directing end of things as he can craft classic looks and striking film. There are not too many things that outwardly stick out but there is a crispness to the direction and how this all comes together. The tennis sequences are well shot with the camera movements giving the audience the feel of being on the court while chasing the ball around. The music from Kris Bowers is triumphant and emotional which really ties the film together.
Does the story of this family play out in a meaningful way? This film is a bit complicated in that way. When you look at it, this film really comes down to Richard Williams…but should it? I know there is a discourse for who should get the spotlight in this story. Why are we hearing about Venus and Serena’s rise from their father’s perspective? Does it devalue their journey? From a narrative perspective, Richard is certainly a compelling enough character to anchor a film. His love for his daughters is earnest in many ways but his methods are harsh and controlling. He butts heads with coaches and even goes as far as lying and manipulating them. Richard has a hard past and will do anything to make sure his daughters never have to experience that. The girls are portrayed as driven and understanding of the experience which may or may not be the truth, but it does water down their characters in the film. The film does lean into quite a few sports drama tropes and overstays its welcome a bit with this bloated runtime.
But we are here to discuss the acting, right? Smith. That’s it (just kidding…we will discuss it). Smith puts on a specific accent and cadence that makes his standout from any of his previous roles. He gets some moments to really shine with impressive emotion. Moments of bursting anger, tender love for his daughters, and hard-headed behavior that makes it difficult to work with fill out this impressive performance. Aunjanue Ellis really soars as the matriarch of this family, and she even has a scene to assert her position next to her husband. Jon Bernthal provides a refreshing performance that is against type. No hardened tough guy. We get a quirky and sincere coach who gets himself played by Richard. And of course…Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton each nail their roles as the Williams sisters.
Will King Richard be the next great sports drama? It certainly has the crowd-pleasing nature to it that will make this one a rewatchable and enjoyable experience. But the film is not perfect. Overlong and cliched, great performances really make things happen on this set. On top of that, we might be seeing Smith’s big moment.