Sunday 25 February 2024

Netflix And Chill: King Richard (2021)

There are two big things that work against King Richard while you are watching it. One is the memory of that Oscar slap "heard around the world", especially when you realise how it underlines why Will Smith gave such a good performance in the role of a man who continues to believe in himself as others dismiss and disrespect him. The other is the fact that this is, ultimately, a film about two of the greatest sportswomen in history . . . told with a focus on the father who guided them to greatness. I'm not saying that the film isn't delivering the truth, or a truth presented to the world by the Williams sisters and their father, but it feels as if some more care could have been taken to show a bit more of the sisters dealing with the choices made by their father.

If you have even the most passing interest in sports, and particularly tennis, then you will be familiar with the Williams sisters (Serena and Venus, played here by Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney, respectively). Both hold multiple records, both are formidable athletes, and both have walked their career path with great dignity and a care to keep supporting, and inspiring, many others. And both were able to fully realise their potential thanks to the grand plan created by their father, apparently. This film shows how their father, Richard Williams (Will Smith), created opportunities that allowed them to break into a world that didn't look set to welcome them with open arms, and it's a superb tale of self-belief, staying grounded, and learning as much from any failures as you learn from victories.

The first developed script from writer Zach Baylin, it's easy to see why this would appeal to his sensibilities (especially when he has followed it up with a couple of other standard, and enjoyable, sport movies). There's everything you need in place for a story told within this sub-genre, and you have an idiosyncratic and flawed character in Richard. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green has half the work done from him by the time the cast is in place, and some more of the work done by editor Pamela Martin (because you have to love those transitions that show time passing from the time a tennis ball is thrown up into the air to the time it is forcefully hit over the net). That's not to take away from how he handles the material. He does a very good job, and I am just saying that getting all of the right people in the right positions is a big part of that job.

Smith is very good in the main role, although it's hard to decide whether it's a truly great performance or just something that seems better because of how far removed it is from most of his other onscreen work. Both Singleton and Sidney are excellent as the young Williams sisters, convincing on and off the tennis court, and Aunjanue Ellis does very good work as Oracene Williams, the wife/mother who supports her family at every turn, but also knows when her husband needs to have his perspective changed after too much time spent with his eyes on a distant prize while he makes decisions that start to require a bit more thought and diplomacy. Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal are two main coaches who do their bit to help progress the careers of the sisters, and both give equally good performances (Bernthal particularly enjoyable playing someone much more acquiescent and passive than he usually does), and a mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces pop in to play businessmen, sponsors, spectators, and tennis players (John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Jennifer Capriati, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario being the other main pros shown).

Despite what works against this, as mentioned in the first paragraph, there are many positives that make it worth your time, not least of which is the feeling of jubilation and satisfaction as some of the end credits are interspersed with real-life footage of the Williams sisters and impressive stats about their sporting achievements. Whether you agree with the main character or not, the successful end result is impossible to deny. And that makes this another underdog story that is impossible not to appreciate and enjoy.


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  1. I'd rather just watch a 30 for 30 documentary on ESPN instead. It's probably closer to the truth.

    1. I have enjoyed a few of the 30 For 30 docs that I've seen, and the Soccer Stories mini-season was absolutely superb.