by Evan Zraket, 2022
King Richard, the biopic about Richard Williams, father of Serena and Venus Williams, is now in theaters. The movie centers around the story of how, through sheer determination and support, he helped his daughters become the tennis stars that they are today. This movie is a breath of fresh air as it seems like many biopics that have come out recently make the subjects of the movie feel more like fictional characters than real people, some notable examples being House of Gucci and Bohemian Rhapsody. But King Richard does not shy away from the titular character’s real life flaws, and instead embraces them to make Richard feel less like a simple movie adaptation of a real person and more like a real person that could actually exist.
One way the movie does this is by expertly employing the technique of character intention. Over the course of the movie, Richard has a very noble goal of wanting to be a supportive, loving father who provides for his children and helps them succeed. Throughout the movie, he repeatedly emphasizes to his daughters the importance of planning ahead, working hard so they don’t remain in poverty, and giving their all to whatever they are doing. Despite these noble ideals, Richard goes about achieving these goals in a flawed way. He is shown to be very proud, confrontational, and extremely stubborn and rigid. All of these flaws are what create and drive the conflict of this movie, which is less about Richard getting his daughters to play professional tennis and more about him overcoming his own shortcomings so that he does not jeopardize the plan that he has worked so hard to achieve.
The character flaws are not just unique to Richard. Every character has their shortcomings, though not to the detriment of the movie. Instead it actually makes it that much better, as it makes the characters more believable and the plot more genuine. A lot of times in movies, characters will be more animated and display stronger emotions than is considered socially acceptable. This movie is an exception. The characters in this movie behave like normal people would if they were in those situations. This understatement of the emotions helped develop the narrative, removing distractions and focusing on the dynamic between Richard, his family, and the people around him. The audience sees Richard’s undying determination slowly tearing his family apart, his realization of that, and his reconciliation with his family.
There was one scene, which was the climactic scene of the movie, where Richard and his wife completely lose their composure and have a shouting match, which I consider to be one of the best written scenes I have seen in modern cinema. While the writing was overall strong, the actors did an excellent job of bringing these characters to life and making them feel like real people.
Will Smith did an exceptional job of highlighting the positive and negative sides of Richard Williams and how those combine to make him a whole person. Jon Bernthal demonstrated how dynamic of an actor he is. Bernthal as tennis coach Rick Macci was unlike any character he has played before. His light hearted mannerisms and upbeat nature were among the many strong elements. I first saw Bernthal in one of his earlier projects, the dark and gritty show, Daredevil on Netflix (check it out if you haven’t; it is the absolutely phenomenal), so every time Macci was on screen, I said to myself “There's no way that's the same guy who played the Punisher.”
Overall I highly recommend this movie. The enjoyment is not exclusive to people who enjoy tennis, and if you don’t have time to go to a theater, you can catch it on HBO Max.