Review by Camden Ferrell
King Richard marks the first leading role for Will Smith since early 2020. This movie had its premiere this year at the Telluride Film Festival. It is the newest film from director Reinaldo Marcus Green, his first since last year’s Joe Bell. This movie is a reliable awards contender, telling a crowd-pleasing true story, anchored by an incredible performance from Smith.
Serena and Venus Williams have become some of the biggest icons of modern sports in their career. This movie follows the life and efforts of their father, Richard Williams. In this movie, we see Richard as he, against all odds, tries to coach his daughters at tennis and elevate them to their legendary status. These athletes have a very interesting story that deserves the big screen treatment, and I think it’s a story that audiences everywhere will enjoy.
Written by Zach Baylin, the script for this movie is very strong from start to finish. The story is told in a compelling way, and it gives the audience a reason to root for its protagonists. It often emulates other sports biopics in its execution of certain plot beats, but it doesn’t hinder the experience of the film. While the choice to focus on Richard as the main character can feel questionable once or twice, the writing is strong enough to overlook any potential issues. It’s an impressive feature writing debut for Baylin that suggests good things to come from his future.
Leading this performance is the always talented Will Smith. He is without a doubt the highlight of this film. He has full command over this role, and he unsurprisingly steals nearly every scene of the movie. He tackles the drama and comedy equally well, and he has great chemistry with his co-stars. Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton play Venus and Serena respectively. They both perform very well for such young actors, and they display their talents throughout this movie as well. One of the big surprises of the film is the performance of John Bernthal, who plays tennis coach Rick Macci. He works very well with Smith and has a charming and hilarious screen presence.
One of the film’s flaws is also one of its biggest virtues. It feels very safe artistically speaking, and it refuses to stray from the tried and tested biopic formula. The film often feels like it could be better than it is, but the underdog story is just so enjoyable that it’s easy to overlook these problems. Fans of sports dramas will love the tennis matches, and even general audiences will enjoy this story and themes of perseverance.
Robert Elswit serves as the film’s cinematographer. While it’s not his best work, he has a unique way of shooting this film which makes it stand apart every so slightly from other films in this genre. This, along with the execution and direction of the film make this an engaging film from start to finish. I especially found the film’s final act riveting and thought it was a satisfying payoff for viewers.
The film can be a little daunting with its 138-minute runtime, but it’s paced very well. While some moments can drag, the film moves with a purpose for the most part. This is bound to be a major awards contender next year. It definitely feels like Oscar-bait, but it’s a crowd-pleasing sports drama that is hard to dislike.
King Richard shows Will Smith commanding the screen with his best performance in years. It’s an engaging and true underdog story that will inspire audiences everywhere. Despite its PG-13 rating, I think this is a great film for families to watch together this weekend.
King Richard is in theaters November 19.