KING RICHARD (to be confirmed)
Twenty years have passed since Will Smith played the incomparable Muhammad Ali in Michael Mann’s film Ali. Now, in another moving biopic, he plays a man no less motivated in the quest for athletic greatness and no less successful in finding it.
Yet Richard Williams does not crave greatness for himself. He had a vision for his daughters Venus and Serena, which began to take shape even before they were born.
King Richard, who had a gala screening at the London Film Festival last night, tells the extraordinary story of one man’s obsession with how a pair of tennis superstars were forged in the crucible of the white-hot ambition of their father.
At the end of the film, with Venus (Saniyya Sidney) still only 14 years old but already flying into the sporting stratosphere, a series of legends tell us what happened next to her and her youngster. sister Serena (Demi Singleton).
But then we already know that. The following credits tell us something much more telling, that the executive producers of this film were … Venus and Serena Williams.
King Richard, who had a gala screening at the London Film Festival last night, tells the extraordinary story of one man’s obsession with how a pair of tennis superstars were forged in the crucible of the ‘white-hot ambition of their father, writes Richard Viner
Their association explains why Richard is presented as some sort of superhero. Insanely stubborn and flawed in other ways too, but a superhero nonetheless. The hagiography puff rises from this film like chalk puffs from the Wimbledon baseline.
At well over two hours, that’s also way too long; if only there was some kind of cinematic tie-break to keep movies from continuing like this. Yet despite all these reservations, I enjoyed King Richard. For anyone who enjoys sports, this is an irresistible story.
And Smith is formidable in the title role, nailing Richard’s speech model, as well as the slightly hunched, bandaged-legged lope that has been seen regularly in tennis tournaments for the past 25 years.
At the start of the film, all he has is a precise shot and a lot of patter.
“I’m in the field of champion cultivation,” he says, believing it with all his heart as he drives his wonders in his battered VW pickup truck from their humble home in Compton, Calif. – in fact a black ghetto. – to the dilapidated public. tennis court. There, they have to brush off the fallen leaves before they can play and endure the unwanted attentions of some local thugs, who beat Richard up every time he confronts them.
Although he has always coached the girls himself, the next phase of the plan is to find a professional to take over.
He prints brochures about Venus and Serena and finally, out of sheer relentlessness, involves Pete Sampras’ trainer. But the defining moment is when Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal), the man who led Jennifer Capriati’s career, invites the entire Williams family to live in his lavish academy in Florida.
Even then, Richard never gives up control. He insists that his daughters should also receive an education, which scores directly. As is part of the plan as much as winning in straight sets. Politeness and dignity also matter.
Richard Williams with Venus and Serena in 1991. Their association explains why Richard is presented as some sort of superhero. Insanely stubborn and flawed in other ways too, but a superhero nonetheless.
And to Macci’s disbelief, he won’t let his daughters play junior tennis, the conventional gateway to going pro. He’s an absolute monarch, and a couple of other things too, which ultimately causes his wife Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis) to lose his temper.
Only then do we learn that she also played a formative role, correcting some of her missteps.
For the most part, the focus is on the older sister. Serena feels forgotten, but Richard assures her that while Venus will one day be the number one player in the world, she will become the greatest of all time.
It’s something powerful and I admit I’ve wiped a tear once or twice, but frustratingly the Reinaldo Marcus Green movie doesn’t land as many emotional aces as it should.
Most of the great sports stories speak of challenges overcome, especially in the case of the Williams sisters, primarily due to their color and background. But there is surprisingly little racism or snobbery in King Richard, and it can’t be because it didn’t happen.
Instead, arguably with the support of the sisters, Zach Baylin’s script focuses on the closeness and warmth of the extended Williams family (both parents had children through other partners), never really explaining. why Richard chose Venus and Serena, at least it seems, as his only champion projects.
Then again, maybe this movie and the way the story is told was also part of the master plan.
King Richard will be released on November 19.