King Richard

  • 13 Nov - 19 Nov, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
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King Richard is the story of a real-life amateur US tennis coach who fought his way up to help his daughters become the world’s most sensational winners.

Will Smith plays the 24/7-committed, fanatically focused and demanding Richard Williams, renowned father of Venus and Serena Williams. This is the man who, by sheer force of will, took his daughters and the rest of his family straight out of Compton and into the sunlit uplands of multimillion-dollar pro-sports triumph, along the way battling snobbery and racism. White parents on the junior circuit wrongly call his girls’ shots out and white sports agents smilingly tell Richard what he’s done with Venus and Serena is “incredible” while lowballing him with derisory offers. Young Venus and Serena are played, respectively, with sympathy and charm by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton; Aunjanue Ellis is their mother, Brandi, and Jon Bernthal their hyperactive coach Rick Macci, permanently exasperated by Richard’s capricious demands.

The film tracks the Williams family’s tough beginnings playing on scuzzy local courts, with Richard regularly getting roughed up when he tries to confront guys hitting on his underage daughters. He badgers a prestigious coach into giving his girls a chance, and then fires this coach and takes Venus and Serena out of the punishing junior tournaments because he feels they need a regular upbringing. He hires Macci instead, and the movie nailbitingly climaxes with Venus’s extraordinary professional debut in 1994 at the age of 14, up against the world number two, Arantxa Sánchez Vicario.

Smith’s performance has the easy, even balance of a gyroscope in full spin, and it’s almost an older version of the untroubled athleticism he brought to his Muhammad Ali in Michael Mann’s film 20 years ago – but essentially opaque. Enjoyable and well-crafted as it is, this movie can’t quite decide what to do with the tougher, darker side of Richard Williams. What was it really like living with someone so driven? So disciplinarian? And someone who, in the film, appears to favour one daughter over the other at crucial stages? That remains a mystery. But that doesn’t stop this being a strong, confident picture with winning performances from Sidney and Singleton.

– Compilation