KING RICHARD – movie review


Warner Bros.
Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Screenwriter: Zach Baylin
Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Saniyya Sidney, Tony Goldwyn
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/23/21
Opens: November 19, 2021

Sharon - King Richard (2021) movie poster
Are we running out of tennis balls?

What do you think of helicopter parents, the folks who push and push their children, compelling them to participate in games and sports when they show talent? They may insist that you take piano lessons and practice for an hour a day—which is surely nowhere near enough if you want your kids to be the next Van Cliburn or Artur Rubenstein. The vast majority will not amount to anything on the celebrity circuit but, a parent can rationalize that at least John and Jane will have skills that make their lives more interesting. If they cannot appear with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show because their talent on the 88 keys is far distant from that of Jon Batiste, maybe they can be lives of the party, encouraging all to sing while making their peers envious.

With “King Richard” Reinaldo Marcus Green, whose “Joe Bell” takes on bullying and whose “Monsters and Men” focuses on the police for the killing of a Black man, this time looks primarily at the life of a big bully, Richard Williams (Will Smith), who sees that two of his five daughters, Venus Williams (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena Williams (Demi Singleton), may be destined for fame well beyond what the typical Saturday-at-the-courts tennis players can achieve. Throughout his bullying, the five daughters respect and love him, saying “Yes daddy” to all his entreties, but often the girls’ mother, Brandy Williams (Aunjanue Ellis) will try to time her husband’s demands.

So why do parents push their kids rather than allowing them to do the things children want to do during their teens? In Richard’s case, it partly his disappointments in life. His job as a nighttime security guard somehow supports seven people in his family (How? Who knows?). He had been buffeted not only by white gangsters who would beat him up and by his own people—gangsters who act like some folks’ stereotypical view of people who live in the mostly Black city Compton, California. He is beaten even by a young Black man who hits on Richard’s 16-year-old daughter, while the man’s friend urges the low-life to waste him.

As expected, Venus, who gets the lion’s share of coaching first from Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) then from Rick Maaci (Jon Bernthal), bonds with both white men, but this time their father pulls back. He states that he wants them to go through childhood as kids are wont to do and not to climb the ladder into the pros. It’s something to see—two white guys jumping up and down, disgusted with the interference from the Venus’s father, although during one critical night Venus astounds everyone by refusing to sing a contact with Nike for a million dollars. (That was later upped when Venus went pro, ultimately to twelve million.)

Considerable time is happily taken by the shots on the court, making viewers wonder by what magic do Robert Elswit’s cinematography, Pamela Martin’s editing, and especially a team of over two dozen special effects people make us believe that Venus can kill the ball as though she were the real Venus Williams?

Warner Bros. is shaping this movie up for Best Picture awards, though they have a better chance with Will Smith for acting. This is a feel-good movie without excessive sentimentality giving a nuanced picture of the man who helped make two daughters into world-class players. When you finish viewing, you will likely say that a bold dramatization like this one beats anything that documentary filmmakers can do.

146 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-