King Richard (2021)

One of the most popular genres to emerge in recent years is the biopic. It’s no secret that both critics and audiences love biopics, especially when faced with an interesting subject. King Richard has found itself as one of the most prominent biopics of the year and focuses on the life of Richard Williams (Will Smith), the father of superstar tennis players Venus and Serena Williams (portrayed by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, respectively). The film chronicles the rise of the Williams sisters, leading to Venus’ professional debut and the impact that Richard had in the sisters’ lives, and the lengths he will go to to ensure that they succeed.

The film is directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and is based on a screenplay written by Zach Baylin. Although King Richard is a biopic and feels traditional in its structure and rags-to-riches storyline, Green’s direction and Baylin’s screenplay really delve into the struggle and character of Richard and do a brilliant job of exuding the struggle and resilience that his character has. The way Green directs the film is as though there is no world outside the family and the fight to get Venus and Serena on the world stage. At times, this can seem claustrophobic and dramatic, as Green keeps such a fixated focus on the world of tennis and nothing else in the sisters’ lives to highlight the idea that tennis is the only option.

The biggest draw of the film is undoubtedly Will Smith’s impeccable performance as the titular character as he brings forth Richard’s determination and resilience to achieve the plans he has for his daughters. From the very first scene, it is clear that Richard knows exactly what he expects from his daughters’ livelihoods as he visits various coaches and lays out the extensive plan that he has that goes into great detail on their tennis careers. To say that Smith’s performance is a tour de force is an understatement as he keeps the film engaging and exciting throughout. King Richard marks Smith’s best performance in years and is bound to see him edge even closer to Oscar glory that seems to currently be a battle between himself and Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog (read my review for that here). What makes Smith’s performance so brilliant is that he exudes the power and confidence that Richard had coupled with his humility and ability to not lose his sense of self. He has a clear knowledge of who he is and ensures that his daughters also apply these morals to their own lives, even as their careers begin to flourish.

What makes King Richard such a standout biopic is that it is not just the leading performance that delivers, but the supporting performances as well. Aunjanue Ellis plays Richard’s wife Oracene Price in a role that may not have the same level of characterisation or screen time as Richard, but the scenes that she is in packs as much power as Smith. It may initially seem that Richard makes the rules and lays out all the plans for the girls, but it is foolish to view Oracene as passive or weak. Strong enough to stand up to Richard and tell him when he steps out of line, Ellis ensures that Oracene is just as present and relevant to the storyline as Richard, and she delivers. The scene in which Richard drives away and leaves the girls to teach them a lesson on humility is soon turned into one of tension as Oracene flatly tells him never to leave the girls ever again. Ellis’ performance is sharp and precise, making use of every moment that she is onscreen, while her rapport with Smith is clearly evident as they bounce off each other brilliantly.

One aspect that is hugely important to King Richard is the music composed by Kris Bowers. The music feeds on the dramatic elements and the tension felt during the tennis matches without overwhelming the scenes themselves. Bowers incorporates the hits of the tennis balls into the tracks to evoke the atmosphere and strength of the characters. Another element of music that stands out in the film is the ending song “Be Alive” sung by Beyoncé who co-wrote the track with Dixson. The song is a celebration of black excellence and plays over a closing montage of the Williams sisters and their many successes over the years following the events portrayed in the film. The song has been nominated for a slew of awards including the Oscar for Best Original Song and showcases Beyoncé’s talent for songwriting for films.

King Richard may seem like any other biopic on the surface and in some ways has the formulaic qualities associated with the genre, but to dismiss it completely is a huge mistake. We are able to gain an insight into how two of the most successful tennis players in history got to where they are today without outwardly exploring events from their perspective. Boasting a career-best performance from Smith and gripping direction and characterisation, King Richard will keep you hooked from beginning to end.

What did you think of King Richard? Let me know in the comments below!


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