REVIEW: ‘King Richard’ can please crowds but could have been more

The Prince of Bel-Air has ascended to a higher monarch level, now having the title of king.

Will Smith is Richard Williams in this new sports drama, the father of tennis greats Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena Williams (Demi Singleton) who had the nickname of King Richard in Compton, Calif. The film begins with Richard helping his daughters with tennis practices, and making an effort to find them a professional coach, as he knows their potential.

From there, the movie follows how Richard worked to advance his daughters’ talents, while also halting their careers from advancing too fast. The movie also explores how Richard got along with Venus’ coaches and his marriage with Oracene Williams (Aunjanue Ellis).

The Williams sisters absolutely deserve to have their stories told and while this movie does focus on Richard, audiences are still able to see how the tennis players’ careers are established. It ends up being a balanced enough approach, having aspects of both a character drama and an inspiring sports film.

While both elements have their pros and cons, though, the movie’s sports moments are much more of a highlight than its dramatic features related to Richard’s life. When it comes to the latter, Richard’s journey seems a bit too glossy.

It is true that the film doesn’t shy away from showing some of Richard’s more controversial moves. For example, his decision to prevent Venus and Serena from competing in direct matches for a period of time is explored in detail.

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Courtesy Warner Bros.

However, the film’s approach is to smooth the edges in many cases by showing Richard’s decisions as earnest actions to ensure his kids stay on the right path. It doesn’t quite come across as an objective take.

What’s more noticeable, though, was how the film portrayed Richard’s relationship, or lack thereof, with his other children. Before he was married to Oracene and had Venus and Serena, Richard had five children with another woman he was married.

In what is arguably the film’s best scene, Oracene calls out Richard’s parenting decisions in an extended, fierce monologue. It’s a fine moment, but is also far too little in terms of studying that side of Richard’s character.

He was a father to many children, but was very much laser-focused on Venus and Serena. Had the movie been more willing to dig deeper into this and other aspects of his life, “King Richard” likely could’ve been a much stronger drama.

While the film falls short in this area, though, it’s not to say it’s a poor effort in telling a dramatic story. Richard’s dedication and and some of his flaws are on screen, making for a compelling arc to follow as an audience.

Combined with the film’s sports elements, “King Richard” turns out to be a winning experience. When it comes to those sports segments, they’re familiar, but executed nicely.

There are a few montages, one with the two training and another of the sisters racking up wins in competitions. These segments are entertaining in capturing the sport and captivating in showing how the Williams sisters started their journey to where they are now.

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There’s also a well made final match featured in the third act that can keep a viewer on the edge of their seat as it goes back and forth between Venus and her opponent.

The young Venus, and her sister Serena, are both portrayed quite well in the film. Sidney and Singleton are definitely convincing as the sisters, humanizing the tennis legends when their careers were just getting underway.

The anxiety they have for some of the major decisions in their lives, such as Venus being approached by Nike for a big contract, as well as moments of them just being kids, is genuine.

Will Smith is the star of the show, though, and it’s very likely he’s going to be picking up nominations this award season, and it is certainly deserved. Smith is one of those actors, similar to Tom Hanks, who never fully disappear into their roles.

However, actors like this have such great screen presence and are so dedicated to the portrayal that the performance shines through. That’s the case with Smith’s work. While Smith doesn’t completely disappear in the role, he is still absolutely convincing as Richard, capturing the figure’s passionate personality.

“King Richard” doesn’t reach the depth a story like this could potentially have, but there are still engaging dramatic elements and the sports moments are crowd pleasing. 3.75 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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