by Julian Spivey
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Starring: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis & Saniyya Sidney
Runtime: 2 hours & 24 minutes
I must say that when I first heard about “King Richard,” a biopic of Richard Williams the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, my first thought was, “Why? Why a biopic about the father and not the two tennis players who have completely dominated the sport for two decades?”
But, after watching “King Richard,” which can now be seen in theaters and streaming on HBO Max through December 18, I understand why the decision to tell the story of the father of the greatest sibling duo in sports history (that’s right any sport) is worth telling.
It must be said that the film, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, is executive produced by both Venus and Serena Williams so you may not be getting a 100 percent accurate or critical telling of the story of their father, but it’s at least you get a film with their blessing that tells you how they feel about the sacrifices Richard Williams made to see two of his daughters succeed in a sport that few African-Americans had succeeded in.
Will Smith, also a producer on the film, absolutely inhabits Richard Williams and it will certainly be a performance talked about throughout award season and likely could result in Smith’s third career Academy Award nomination for Best Actor (he was previously nominated for “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness”). I’ve seen and enjoyed several of Smith’s movies and performances throughout his career, and I will say this is the best I’ve ever seen him. He brings out both the determination and caring, as well as the arrogancy of Richard Williams with ease. Most importantly Smith gets lost in the performance to the point of even though you know in your head you’re watching a Will Smith performance you feel as if you’re watching the real Richard Williams.
One thing about “King Richard” that surprised me a bit was its large focus on Venus Williams and not necessarily both Venus and Serena, but it absolutely makes sense. Venus was the oldest of the two and it was largely upon Richard to ensure that she succeeded because his plan, from both girls’ birth was for them both to succeed and if Venus didn’t first there may not be a path for Serena.
Venus is played by Saniyya Sidney, and Serena is played by Demi Singleton in the film, and both do an apt job at portraying the teenage Williams sisters without having to be very showy or really do a whole lot as the focus is on Richard.
Aunjanue Ellis is terrific as Oracene, the mother of the girls and Richard’s wife, and truly deserves some award recognition herself for a strong performance in which she manages to go toe-to-toe with Smith’s Richard on multiple occasions, even if the film doesn’t spotlight her quite so much.
Speaking of great supporting roles, both Tony Goldwyn as Venus’ first professional coach (her dad was always her first coach) Paul Cohen and Jon Bernthal as her second coach Rick Macci are both fantastic in their roles. Bernthal’s Macci certainly gives the film some levity in dealing with the hard-lined Richard.
“King Richard,” written by Zach Baylin, focuses on Richard and the Williams sisters from about 1990 until 1994 when Venus competes in her first professional event at the age of 14.
My only real complaint about "King Richard" is at almost two-and-a-half hours it's a bit too long, but at the same time it doesn't drag much at all.