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Blu-ray Review: King Richard

February 8, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Are champions born or raised? That’s the question at the heart of King Richard, a pretty solid inspirational sports movie that dramatizes the story of how Richard Williams (Will Smith) helped turn his daughters Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) into two of the biggest tennis stars the world has ever known.

The film, which is produced by the Williams sisters, focuses specifically on the unconventional path they took to get to the top, taking us back to their childhood in Compton, and centring the narrative around their determined, working class father who set up a plan for them to become tennis champions from the time they were born.

The screenplay by Zach Baylin takes us through the early years of Venus and Serena’s budding athletic careers, showing how their father’s somewhat controversial coaching methods occasionally held them back, but also helped turn them into the players they would become. A big part of this involves strictly adhering to a “life plan” (as he says in the film, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”), that he has carefully devised to both teach them the skills needed to play this traditionally rich, “white” sport and also to help keep them out of the poverty that he grew up in.

Richard works late nights as a security guard in order to support the five girls that he is raising with his wife Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis). Despite the family’s limited resources, he collects old tennis balls and worn out racquets and spends every spare moment that he has teaching his girls the techniques of the game, and sending videos of them practising to prospective coaches that he doggedly pursues. The girls must follow a series of ground rules such as that education always comes first, and he has them practise in the pouring rain to make sure they are prepared for any scenario.

In one sequence, he sits the family down to watch Cinderella to admonish them for gloating after winning a game, reminding them to always be humble. The film does raise some thornier questions about if he was pushing them too far to live out his own dreams, but mostly sidesteps them for a more inspirational narrative. Richard is presented at times as a stubborn and polarizing figure, but one whose grit and determination, coupled with the raw talent of his daughters, ended up paying off.

This portrayal, and subsequently the film itself, works because of the strength of Smith’s charismatic, movie star performance in the title role. In bringing this larger than life figure to the screen, Smith gets to tap into his towering screen presence that made him a star in the first place, while also reminding us of his ability to deliver more grounded dramatic moments. Ellis delivers standout supporting work, including going toe-to-toe with Smith during a kitchen argument scene.

Jon Bernthal also leaves his mark in the film’s second half as Rick Macci, a coach who brings the girls to his training camp and wants them to turn pro, leading to clashes with Richard, who has pulled them out of juniors. Despite its nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time, director Reinaldo Marcus Green keeps the film moving at a solid pace. The movie is inspiring in all the expected ways, but also some more unexpected ways as well, with a message about how patience and perseverance are sometimes more important than always competing and always winning.

Yes, the film feels designed to win Will Smith an Oscar and made to play with a cheering crowd (interestingly, it flopped at the box office, though to be fair it was also released day-and-date on HBO Max in the US), but King Richard is well acted and entertaining enough to overlook its glossier, awards-bait trappings. This is a fine example of filmmaking that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but doesn’t need to, either. It’s a sturdy and satisfying crowdpleaser that is elevated by its performances.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray includes three bonus featurettes and a couple of deleted scenes. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package.

Following the Plan – The Making of King Richard (9 minutes, 7 seconds): Members of the cast and crew talk about bringing the true story to the screen, and working with family members to keep it as authentic as possible.

Becoming Richard (6 minutes, 26 seconds): Smith talks about how he tapped into his relationship with his own daughter in order to take on the role, and wanting to bring Richard Williams to life in a “three dimensional” way.

Champions on Screen (5 minutes, 51 seconds): A look at how the film’s two young stars Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton approached taking on these iconic roles.

Deleted Scenes (3 minutes, 3 seconds): Two scenes between Smith and Bernthal that were cut from the film.

King Richard is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 145 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: February 8th, 2022

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