Heartland: King Richard

Despite a hint of cheesiness, DC Bolling says Will Smith has his best dramatic role in some time as the father/coach of tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams. This one's a winner.

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You know, there’s nothing like a good sports movie to get you in the mood when we are currently in the heart of awards season. And the one to represent this year comes as “King Richard.”

The title would have you suggest this is another take on a Shakespeare play. Quite the opposite. It happens to tell the story of Richard Williams (Will Smith) and how he was determined to make two of his five daughters, Venus and Serena Williams (Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton), the biggest superstars in tennis history starting in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Out of all the films to have premiered at this year's Heartland International Film Festival, this has got to be the biggest name I was excited for the most. We haven’t had a ton of movies based around tennis besides the forgettable rom-com ”Wimbledon” or the underrated “Battle of the Sexes.”

But if there are two things I enjoy in this world, that would be a good Will Smith movie and a sports drama to rave about while walking out. In this case, “King Richard” is an absolute winner.

Do you have to be the most significant follower of tennis to enjoy this? No, that’s the beauty of what director Reinaldo Marcus Green (“Monsters and Men,” “Joe Bell”) accomplished here. Having not seen Green’s previous work, I can tell he was passionate about telling this story of fatherhood and dreams.

Since it’s marketed as a biopic, you already have an idea of how everything will play out, even if it's a little conventional. Everybody who's anybody knows the names of Venus and Serena, who were the first female black athletes I've heard about ever since I was young.

The sport has seen noticeable favorites in the past from John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, and Billie Jean King, but how could you not know the most famous sisters in the world?

Sometimes you have to expect athletes like them were already born great. But we never know how they’re raised to greatness when it comes to their parents’ strong interest. “King Richard” isn’t just a biopic about the father, but it does a fantastic job focusing on him and his daughters without compromising either of them.

Here we have a family from Compton, California, with a father training their daughters practically every day and wants to show off their talented skills to promising professional coaches for a free price. Though we all know achieving in the world of tennis doesn’t always cost cheap, even with a 78-page plan ever since they were young.

Will Smith has always been one of my favorite actors ever since I was a kid. So, it was pleasing to see him do dramatic role since, even though he made a massive name for himself for memorable summer blockbusters, he has been in some movies that aren't always a good experience (“Collateral Beauty,” “After Earth”).

If you’ve been waiting for him to have a role that shows how great he is as an actor, thankfully, seeing how this film belongs to him, I think it’s easy to say this turns out to be his best performance since his Oscar-nominated role in “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

Capable of showing he still has the strength to carry that charisma we’ve come to love, we get to see this flawed individual who’s always willing to show his daughters the path of success when he wants to show the world who they are on the tennis court. Richard is someone who sees unlimited potential but also wants them to be layered with respect. To make sure he makes them succeed, that comes with highs and lows for his ego.

The promise he sees in Venus and Serena shows how much he loves them. Would I want a father like that? It depends on what I’m passionate about in life.

Not only him, but the rest of the supporting cast didn’t disappoint in the slightest. By the end, you can’t get over how phenomenal both Sidney and Singleton were as the younger portrayals of the Willams sisters, especially Sidney as Venus. Their sisterly bond is one of the beating hearts the film has going for it.

It was a surprise realizing the spotlight is more given on Venus, but she was the first of the two to make it big when she started winning junior match after junior match, realizing how good she really is.

It will not happen, but I hope there are conversations about Sidney for a possible Best Supporting Actress nomination. If that doesn’t happen, there’s still Aunjanue Ellis as Richard’s wife, Oracene "Brandi," who made quite the impression. Playing the supporting mother, Ellis still makes her scenes prevalent when you feel she doesn’t have a say in big decisions, including an argument between her and Richard.

I would also like to mention Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal, respectively, as tennis coaches Paul Cohen and Rick Macci.

Zach Baylin’s screenplay may have a hint of cheesiness to the story, but it still consists of a ton of heartfelt moments, as well as some funny bits  that came from Smith that had me and the rest of the audience laughing when it needed the levity.

Is everything here true to what occurred in real life? Maybe not, since there’s probably stuff Willaims said that was considered controversial or was brushed over pretty quickly. But if any of us were in that position in making certain decisions, are we better than who we are?

Well, that depends on how much we want to care for our child’s future. Champions come from everywhere, and we shouldn’t forget about that fact. Let’s just say I teared up towards the end.

The one nitpick I had is that it feels too long, running at 138 minutes, but that thought could be forgotten when I re-watch it. Instead, I found myself fully invested in what would come next. You become very supported with the tennis action Green impressively shot, matched by an excellent score from Kris Bowers, where it’s almost impossible not to be glued to the screen wondering if Venus will win or not. Because of this, this made me want to tune into any tennis match whenever it’s on television. More importantly, give me another involving the William sisters.

Hopefully, this will inspire many tennis players, especially young black girls, to never give up on their passion for getting success. After it ended, can I finally say Smith might be looking at the front-runner to win the Best Actor Oscar? Let’s hope so.

Overall, “King Richard” is an inspirational and crowd-pleasing sports drama everybody needs to see. Of course, you know what you're getting, but it'll still leave you satisfied in how this true story plays, with Will Smith giving his best performances in years.

Are we looking at a possible Best Picture nomination? It seems to be the one Warner Bros. Pictures will be campaigning for the next few months. But more importantly, is this worth recommending? Absolutely, and it's definitely one I can see myself watching for a second time next month when it hits HBO Max.

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