Starring: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Jon Bernthal, Dylan McDermott, and Tony Goldwyn
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
All hail the king! King Richard is an inspiring, unconventional, and heartfelt sports biopic that explores a family working towards the American dream. A true crowd-pleaser, it finds a new angle from which to approach the biopic formula by focusing on family first and foremost. Will Smith anchors the film, delivering an Oscar worthy performance while being surrounded by an equally strong ensemble. The only downside of the film is that the runtime is a bit longer than it needs to be. However, it still manages to grip you without losing track of itself.
Love - that’s what comes through when watching King Richard. A father’s love for his daughters, sisters’ love for each other, and athletes’ love for the game. Will Smith as the fiercely driven Richard Williams is sure to get Oscar buzz, but he is matched frame for frame by the luminous Saniyya Sidney (as Venus Williams) and Demi Singleton (as Serena Williams). The too few glimpses into Richard’s darker past (highlighted brilliantly by Aunjanue Ellis) does leave you wanting, but the uplifting and heartfelt story that is ultimately delivered will enthral you from start to finish.
King Richard may not have sports fans clamoring over it as with Creed or Ford v. Ferrari, but it’s the closest something has come to matching that energy in a while. A solid, middle-of-the-road crowd-pleaser with a lot of heart on its sleeve, the inspirational tale of the Williams’ sisters rise to glory is very well written and mostly well paced. Will Smith is on another level here (and is sure to win Best Actor), but Aunjanue Ellis matches his every step, nearly stealing some scenes. Saniyya Sidney shines as Venus too. This will likely be a major Oscar contender.
King Richard is your typical Oscar bait biopic. It’s a competently made film led by Will Smith, but it’s actually carried by the rest of the ensemble. It has a few too many things to focus on, so even with a 2.5-hour runtime, it feels like it barely scratches the surface. While there is some vulnerability to the characters, it's almost sanitized to a certain degree, leaving it feeling a bit generic. Still, it’s one to watch, especially if you’re with family.
King Richard is a paint-by-numbers movie, but one that has enough heart that it can be forgiven. Will Smith gives a career best performance, but for me, it’s Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams who steals the show. The movie definitely has a powerful underdog story to tell, but it never lets go of the family aspect, which is the movie’s strongest and most engaging component. It makes the 2.5-hour runtime fly by, creating one of the better feel-good movies I’ve seen in a while.
Upon watching King Richard, it’s clear this is a story worth telling, as the journey of this family is truly fascinating. Richard Williams is a polarizing figure, and his mix of Lavar Ball-style antics and determined fatherhood made Will Smith perfect for this role. However, the film is well cast across the board. Smith may get all the awards chatter, but the film doesn’t work without Saniyya Sidney's endearing portrayal of Venus Williams, who is at the heart of the story. This is more than your typical rising-through-the-ranks backstory and it’s certainly worth checking out.
Despite a great performance from Will Smith, I’m unsure of what feeling I was supposed to come away with from King Richard. Obviously, the Williams sisters are superstars, but the movie nearly forces you to question whether they are successful because of their father or despite him. It’s generally pro-Richard Williams (Smith), but the onscreen events don’t always jive with that, which causes some conflict in the viewer. It’s still worth watching, but the mixed messaging and a wavetop approach to racial issues that the sisters surely faced make the story a bit less inspirational than it probably should be.