Champions in the Other Room

King Richard

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Dylan McDermott, Noah Bean, Demi Singleton, Kevin Dunn, Tony Goldwyn, Dylan McDermott

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Running Time: 2 hours and 24 minutes

Oscar nominee Will Smith (Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness) portrays the overbearing and protective father of the tennis prodigies Venus and Serena Williams in the oddly titled film King Richard directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green.

Initially set in Compton in South Central Los Angeles in the early 1990’s Richard Williams is determined to turn his daughters into world class tennis stars but lacking the resources to do so, he often takes Venus and Serena to more plush parts of the city for them to practice in affluent country clubs.

As a father he sees the potential in Venus played by Saniyya Sidney and Serena played by Demi Singleton while also contending with three other daughters and a sceptical yet supportive wife Brandy played by Aunjanue Ellis (If Beale Street Could Talk, Ray).

As a biopic about the inspiration behind the phenomenal success of the Venus sisters in the World Tennis circuit, King Richard is an oddly dysfunctional film, lacking in a smooth directorial style by Reinaldo Marcus Green and at over two hours, the film could have been edited more efficiently, especially in the drawn out first half.

Will Smith is brilliant as Richard Williams, the pushy and controlling father who sees the sporting potential in his daughters yet is often at odds with the snobbish attitudes of the tennis circuit and its country club and also frequently fights with the smooth talking eager tennis coach Rick Macci superbly played by Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street, Baby Driver, Fury) in one of his best on screen performances.

It’s only in the second half, when the Williams family moves to Florida, does the film find its footing. Unlike such flashy films as Ron Howard’s Rush or Bennett Miller’s contemplative Moneyball, director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard is an uneven film held together by an excellent performance by Will Smith, who along with his wife Jada Pinkett Smith were also producers on the film.

With the exception of Jon Bernthal, Tony Goldwyn and Dylan McDermott have hardly any screen time and not enough emphasis is placed on the actual success of the now international tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. Even the actresses that play the younger versions of themselves have limited exposure in the narrative.

It’s only in the second half of King Richard that their determined characters shine through. Unfortunately at times, Will Smith takes over too many scenes as the overbearing father Richard Williams, which was probably intentional. Whether his performance will get recognised during the 2022 Oscar season remains to be seen.

King Richard gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is an interesting film about the origin story of two unbelievably talented tennis stars: Serena and Venus Williams, who become an inspiration for many and achieved international fame.

Recommended viewing for those that enjoy a fascinating biopic and of course tennis.

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