Reel Reviews | King Richard

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

A crazy man enacts a plan developed from a 78-page manifesto with the intention of creating two of the most powerful forces ever seen in the world of tennis.  Welcome to King Richard.

Richard Williams (Will Smith) is a crazy man.  Not because he has five daughters, whom he loves and cares for but because before they were even born, he created a 78-page plan to create two tennis champions.  Everyone around him thinks he is crazy except for his family including his wife, Oracine (Aunjanue Ellis), and his two proteges Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton).  What he really is, is crazy like a fox with the results to show.

Written by first-timer Zach Baylin, King Richard is based upon the true story of the life of Richard Williams, the “madman” who coaches his two girls Venus and Serena toward world domination in tennis.  The movie stars Smith, Ellis, Sidney, and Singleton along with Jon Bernthal and Tony Goldwin.  The film is directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men, Top Boy).

The story of Richard Williams is one of great debate.  To the tennis world, he has been reputed to be a “madman” because the way that he moves is unconventional to that world.  Never before has a man done things the way that he did in managing his daughters.  This movie attempts to address the reputation that he has.  Will Smith plays Williams as a protecting patriarch who is doing his best to not only cultivate his children physically but mentally and emotionally as well.  One of the things that were brought out in the movie is how tennis star Jennifer Capriotti’s train wreck of a career affected his decision making especially about pulling Venus from competing in Junior tournaments.  Through this movie, we see how intelligent and calculating Williams is in fashioning these future champions.

The most impressive thing about this movie is its difference from almost anything that has come before it.  In almost every movie about a child star or athlete, especially for those in the African-American world, the father figure is either absent, dangerously overbearing, ignorant, or just plain clueless.  So when Richard Williams tells his story about how his father allowed him to be beaten and promises his daughter that he would never allow anyone to do that to her, this film sets itself on a level that is inspirational and challenging to every man who seeks to be a real father.  Despite his reputation to the outside world, this film shows Williams is dedicated, intelligent, loving and most of all present in the lives of his children, a real role model for every father. 

The story of King Richard is well constructed but it is truly empowered by the considerable acting prowess of Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis.  Smith, in his strongest acting performance since Ali, puts on a clinic, showing all his emotions from anger and outrage to love and concern as he works to be a “lion” protecting and guiding the lives of not just Venus and Serena but all of his girls.  Aunjanue Ellis is the perfect complement to Smith’s character playing the mother who supports Richard but refuses to be run over or diminished in her role in raising their children.  Ellis plays the person who corrects and confronts everyone in the film.  While her talents are on display only a few in the film, she delivers each and every time.  Yet with all of Ellis’ excellence, this movie is a showcase for the undeniable talent of Will Smith who struts and swaggers through each and every scene of the film.

Compliments go to the young lions who are riding along with Smith.  The incredible young veteran Sidney, (Fences, Fast Color) a naturally left-handed woman, had to take the time to learn to play genuinely convincing, championship-level tennis with her right hand to play the role of Venus.  Singleton (Goldie, Godfather of Harlem) also is very good at finding the right level in playing the demure but in no way less hungry, Serena Williams.

Rated PG-13 for some violence, strong language, a sexual reference, and brief drug references, King Richard is an intense look at the dedication, family, desire, and excellence.  It is powerful and loving, smart and strong.  This is a film that touches all who watch it, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, parents and children.  It forces viewers to re-examine and evaluate their lives and their parenting styles encouraging us all to do better.  It also forces us to see Will Smith in a light that we may have never seen him.  Get those awards handy!

King Richard is in theaters and on HBO Max. 

Grade: A