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'King Richard' Review: Game, set, match as Will Smith dishes Oscar-worthy performance

This one's for sports drama suckers and Will Smith fans can celebrate for dishing out a performance for the ages
UPDATED NOV 19, 2021
Will Smith in a still from 'King Richard' (IMDb)
Will Smith in a still from 'King Richard' (IMDb)

Will Smith's been a Bad Boy for Life, he's dealt with aliens with Tommy Lee Jones, he's been getting jiggy with it for a while now, and he's been the man who's effortlessly funny, charismatic, and oozes confidence. However, he swaps all of these qualities in 'King Richard'. He's cantankerous, stiff, broody, heavily invested, and the man driven by massive determination to turn his daughters — Serena (Demi Singleton) and Venus Williams (Saniyya Sidney) into absolute tennis superstars. Now that may mean poorly rested and making a chunk of sacrifices, but so be it.

Much about Richard Williams has been said and written, and the man was famously known for planning his daughters' lives even before they landed on planet earth. They were destined for greatness, and fueling them to be the world's greatest aces in tennis was Richard. He was there with them, driving around a minivan with tennis equipment, training them, and getting them perfect. Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark famously said, "Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk," and Richard's philosophy was no different — just replace that run with serve.


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Will Smith in a still from 'King Richard' (IMDb)

Richard was there every step of the way for his daughters and the sacrifices are just heartwarming. He moved from Compton, California, to West Palm Beach, Florida so that his daughters could train at the fabled tennis academy run by Jon Bernthal's Rick Macci. The film uses Venus' game against world No 2 Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in an emotionally-charged climax.

'King Richard' is more than just preaching. It's meant to inspire and like all sports dramas, it gives an insight into what the greats did to make them G.O.A.T.S. And in that role where he preaches, Smith shines as a bonafide, bankable movie star with his larger-than-life persona. There's just the raw emotion in full display when Richard talks to his daughters, egging them that their lives will never be the way it was when they grew up. It was as simple as 'What I couldn't achieve, my daughters will' and he drills that ideology into his daughters.

At one point, it's as if Smith just plays the role of a father, and not necessarily Richard. There's love, yet expectations. Faith, yet fearful of the outcome, proud, and unafraid to show it out loud. With Venus and Serena serving as executive producers, there's permission to dig into his life and pack as much as possible a movie spanning 138 minutes. A few things from his life are toned down. Richard was married before meeting Serena and Venus' mum, Oracene “Brandy” Price (Aunjanue Ellis), who deserves a lot more credit for her impeccable performance.

Director Reinaldo Marcus Green, working off a script by Zach Baylin covers enough aspects about Richard. His true vision has been brought out quite well, even though the film uses copious doses of melodrama to painting that picture, but it does scrupulously. Smith lost out on an Oscar after playing slugger Muhammad Ali to perfection, but now as Richard, he's taken another shot at taking the elusive award home, and it does feel like he's game, set, matched his competition.

This one's for sports drama suckers and Will Smith fans can more than just breathe in peace for dishing out a performance for the ages.

'King Richard' is running in theatres and is available for streaming on HBO Max.