As sure as eggs are eggs, every Oscar season has a biographical sporting drama. There’s just something universally inspiring and uplifting about tales of athletic accomplishments, especially when our hero comes from an impoverished or unlikely background. King Richard delivers not one but two of these prodigies, as we follow the story of Venus and Serena Williams and their incredible journey from the streets of Compton to worldwide tennis glory. But the subject of the film – and indeed the star – is the titular patriarch of the Williams dynasty, portrayed by a career-best Will Smith.
Told through the eyes of hard-working father Richard Williams (nicknamed ‘King Richard’), this beautiful film is more a study of family dynamics and an engrossing study of the effects of one’s drive than it is a run-of-the-mill sporting biopic. While most dramas of this subgenre would simply focus on the rise of a talent with quickfire montages of improvement and crowd-pleasing sequences of victory, King Richard isn’t afraid of spending far more of its 144 minute runtime in the quiet moments. Thanks to a beautiful script and stellar performances, the film is at its best when portraying the dynamic between father and daughters (Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton), with Aunjanue Ellis earning a very well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress as the girls’ mother.
But this is Will Smith’s film. He is an absolute revelation here, delivering a truly magnificent performance that earned him another of the film’s Oscar nominations with Best Actor. Whether you see his character as an overbearing bully or a loving inspiration, Smith portrays Williams as a rough and grizzled man damaged by years of poverty and racism, but still pushing forward and doing everything to shape a life for his daughters. It’s a remarkably layered performance that deserves all the accolades and reminds us what Smith is capable of – especially in contrast to his previous more traditionally Will Smith roles in Gemini Man and Bad Boys for Life.
On the whole, King Richard is a sweet and tender drama about an incredible family that made tennis history with not one but two champions in Venus and Serena. A crowd-pleasing, uplifting delight that will almost certainly find glory come Oscar night – game, set, match.