One of the reasons that sports biopics often fail is because it is often obvious that the filmmakers behind the film were so in love with their subject that the view that they present in the film is that the sports’ star is a hero that had no weaknesses or faults. Or if they do they are what drove them to success.
Brand new biopic King Richard doesn’t do that though. Here director, Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters & Men), tells the story of one of US sports most recognisable cult heroes – yet he is someone that never took the court himself. The second thing that Green does is that he puts the story out on the table and then allows the audience to make up their own mind about whether the person in question is a hero or villain.
The person at hand is Richard Williams (Will Smith – Bad Boys) the father of tennis greats Venus (Saniyya Sidney – Fences) and Serena Williams (Demi Singleton – Goldie). The film chronicles on Richard had a plan for his daughters before they were even born but how he and his wife, Oracene Williams (Aunjanue Ellis – Ray), worked hard to teach their daughters all the ins and outs of tennis despite the obstacles the neighbourhood placed in their way.
Determined on his mission though Richard keeps working as hard as he can to see the goals achieved even if it at times means clashing with the girl’s early coaches, including Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal – The Walking Dead).
While it may not seem so to the average cinema goer Green overcomes a lot of obstacles to make this film work. Despite the fact that we all know where the Williams sisters end up with their careers Green and his screenwriter, Zach Baylin (Come As You Are), still make the film suspenseful as Richard first of all tries to help the girls escape their environment and catch the attention of the some of the world’s best coaches. That is no mean feat, but it is something that Green manages to do well throughout the film.
The second major obstacle that the film overcomes is that society has mixed opinions on Richard Williams. While some see him as a sporting hero who helped his daughters overcome massive odds other see him an overbearing parent who was working towards his own goals and dreams and used his daughters to get there. To Green’s credit this film shows both sides of that argument, in a really natural way, and lets the audience make up their own minds on whether they think Richard was in the right or the wrong.
Green also makes this film very accessible for those that may not know a thing about tennis. In a way this is not a sporting story but a story of a family determined to work hard to make a better life for themselves. A lot of the more touching moments throughout this film happen away from the court – whether it be scenes between Richard and Oracene or moments between father and daughter, all of these scenes work throughout the film without it ever becoming something cheesy that Hallmark would like.
The film itself also brings out the best in its actors. Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton are young stars on the rise while the seasoned actors here come to the fore. Will Smith plays the often unsure yet determined Richard Williams so well that he deserves to come into Awards contention. You literally forget that you are watching Will Smith in this film and there are times throughout this film where you swear by Smith’s facial expression that he is even trying to ‘think’ like Williams.
Also bringing his A-Game to the table here is Jon Bernthal who over the past few years has shown Hollywood just what a versatile actor he really is. It seems no matter what role Bernthal finds himself playing he falls into character with ease and here we see him rise to the occasion with many of more tense scenes playing out between himself and Will Smith. The result is cinematic gold.
King Richard is one of the most intriguing sports films that I have watched over the past few years. As director Green makes a well known story suspenseful and dramatic and Will Smith delivers one of the best performances of his career.